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Reform or Revolution 


The classic statement of the position of scientific socialism 
on the direction of capitalist development "historical necessity," 
social reforms, the State, democracy, and the nature and 
methods of the socialist transformation of society, 

"History has corroborated Luxemburg's thesis to minute 
details. In the face of the events of the past three decades — ■ 
the late Great War, the following period of peace without 
peace, the economic debacle of 1929, the rising threat of a 
new World War — even the cleverest apologists of the existing 
social order find it difficult to promise the sweetening of 
capitalism, the suppression of crises, the possibility of >a truce 
between States and classes within a static capitalist paradise. 

"Yet it is not true that the old illusions are dead. They 
have been dressed in new clothes, decorated with new names. 
They have even been touched up with red and drafted in the 
service of a 'progressive* national revolution and a powerful 
bureaucratic-military State . . . 

"The march of history continues to disprove the new-old 
illusions . . . Referred to the experience of our time, Luxem- 
burg's concise exposition of the program and outlook of In- 
tranaigeant socialism is a powerful instrument of clarification, 
helping to make the wide socialist understanding we must 
have to achieve our emancipation," 

Written in the authors customary crystal-clear, easy-to- 
understand style. 

This is the first and only English edition of Luxemburg's 
important work. 



P. O. Box 44, Sta. O New York, N. Y. 






Translated By 

New York 


University of 





What is now happening to Marx's doctrine has, in the course of 
history, often happened to the doctrines of other revolutionary thinkers 
and leaders of oppressed classes struggling for emancipation. During 
the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes have visited 
relentless persecution on them and received their teachings with the 
most savage hostility, the most furious hatred, the most ruthless 
campaign of lies and slanders. After their death, attempts are made 
to turn them into harmless icons, canonize them, and surround their 
names with a certain halo for the "consolation" of the oppressed classes 
and with the object of duping them, while at the same time emascu- 
lating jand^vtilgarizing the real essence of their revolutionary theories 
and blunting their revolutionary edge. At the present time, the 
bourgeoisie and the opportunists within the labor movement are co- 
operating in this work of adulterating Marxism. They omit, obliterate, 
and distort the revolutionary side of its teaching, its revolutionary 
S uT hey pUsh t0 ttie forc E" roi,cl d and extol what is, or seems, ac- 
ceptable to the bourgeoisie. All the social-chauvinists are now "Marx- 
ists"— joking aside! And more and more do German bourgeois pro- 
fessors, erstwhile specialists in the demolition of Marx, speak now 
of . ' th f. " na * 5otia 1-Gcrman" Marx, who, they aver, has educated the 
splendidly organized working class for the present predatory war. 
In such circumstances, the distortion of Marxism being so widespread 
it is our first task to resuscitate the real teachings of Marx on the State. 
(At ate and RevohtHon, page 1.) 

WITH THESE splendid sentiments, Lenin began his study of 
the question of the relation of a socialist revolution to the State 
— "an urgent problem of the day, being concerned with the elucidation 
for the masses of what they will have to do for their liberation from 
the yoke of capitalism in the very near future." 

After twenty years of the existence of the "dictatorship of the 
proletariat" that was previewed by Lenin in his State and Revolution, 
it can be said without fear of exaggeration that the feelings expressed 
by the great Russian statesman in his most important piece of political 
writing ring as pertinent today as in August 1917, on the eve of the 
Bolshevik seizure of power. 

That does not mean that Lenin's "very near future" of 191 7 is any 
less the wish-thinker's "very near future in 1938." The "masses" 


for whom Lenin presumed to "elucidate" the question of the State 
and revolution apparently did not do what they supposedly had to 
do to liberate themselves from the yoke of capitalism. It is quite 
obvious now that the great numbers of the population of capitalist 
society*— the "masses" to whom, Lenin preached from the teacher's 
height — will learn to do what they have to do for their liberation 
only after a great deal of experience and further disillusionment, and 
in spite of the very efforts of some of the shrewdest and most talented 
teachers. After twenty years of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" 
that is extolled as the real thing by Lenin in his magnificently written 
State and Revolution, the "bourgeoisie and the opportunists" are still 
cooperating in the work of "adulterating Marxism," "Marxist" pro- 
fessors are still functioning at the task of preparing a "predatory war." 

All that is necessary to bring Lenin's impassioned arraignment up- 
to-date in the last regard, is to strike out "German" and make reference 
to another national term. 

Twenty years after the publication of Lenin's "elucidation" of the 
question of the relation of a proletarian socialist revolution to the 
State, the first task is more than ever "to resuscitate the real teachings 
of Marx on the State." But of almost equal importance today is the 
task of tearing away, the partly unintentional, partly willful web of 
confusion thrown over the problem by Lenin and his followers, the 
erstwhile resuscitators of the "real teachings" of Marx. 

History, as tt transpired after Lenin had finished his masterpiece 
on the State, had taught us in practice a lesson that was stressed again 
and again by Marx in his political writings: 

"No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces 
for which there is room within it have been developed; and new 
higher relations of production never appear before the material con- 
ditions of their existence have matured, in the womb of the old society." 
(Preface to Critique of Political Economy.) Neither by "bold leaps" 
nor by "legal enactments" can socialism be installed where its pre- 
requisite economic conditions do not exist, "Therefore, mankind 
always takes up only such problems as it can solve; since, looking at 
the matter more closely, we will always find that the problem itself 
arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution 
already exist or are at least in the process of formation." The will 
and the wide socialist understanding essential for the effective abolition 
of capitalism can only arise under the conditions of developed capital- 
ism. As a result, the "socialist" revolution occurring in the backward 
countries is always a movement in which the great mass is merely 
in revolt and only a self-styled "vanguard" minority is conscious of 
any socialist aim. This aim, the conscious minority hope to impose on 
the majority by means of a "benevolent" dictatorship. Forced by 
objective facts to abandon the idea of introducing socialism where the 


conditions for it do not exist, and where, therefore, the great mass of 
the population does not want it, the new rulers, the "vanguard" mi- 
nority who were put in power as a result of the revolution, accommo- 
date themselves in time to the job of administering the social-economic 
arrangement permitted by the circumstances on hand: capitalism. 
"Finding power sweet, they develop the century-old technique of 
intrigue, deception, bribery, and arbitrary violence in order to keep 
themselves in power. Unable to give the reality of socialism, they 
learn a new propaganda, which consists, crudely put, of calling un- 
regenerate capitalism by a new name — socialism." {Socialist Standard, 
November, 1934.) 

According to Marx, the "first step in the revolution by the working 
class (the socialist revolution) is to raise the proletariat to the position 
of the ruling class, to win the battle of democracy." (Communist 
Manifesto.) That is because to be an act for socialism, this revolution 
can only be "the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense 
majority in the interest of the immense majority." {Communist Mani- 
festo,) "After its victory, the sole organization which the proletariat 
finds already in existence is precisely the State. This State may require 
very considerable alterations before it can fulfill its new functions-" 
(Engels: Letter to van Patten, April 18, 1883.) For "the working 
class cannot simply seize the available machinery of the State and set 
it in motion for its own ends." (Marx: Civil War in France, Chapter 
III.) "At the best the State is an evil inherited by the proletariat 
after its victorious struggle for class supremacy and whose worse 
features it will have to lop off at once, as the Commune did, until such 
time as a new generation, reared under new, free social conditions, 
will be in a position to rid itself of this State rubbish in its entirety." 
(Engels: 1891 preface to Civil War in F'ranceJ) The first task of the 
victorious socialist revolution— «thc self-conscious movement of the im- 
mense majority in the interest of the immense majority— is not "merely 
to hand over, from one set of hands to another, the bureaucratic and 
military machine, as has occurred hitherto, but to shatter it; and it is 
this that is the preliminary condition of any real people's revolution 
on the Continent." (Marx: Letter to Kugdmann, April 12, 1871.) 

In order to wield the power of the State in behalf of a socialist 
transformation of society, the victorious immense majority must im- 
mediately make certain fitting alterations in the State. 

"What alterations? 

The bureaucratic and military features of the existing State must 
be immediately lopped off. The bureaucratic-military machinery of 
the State must be replaced with greater popular rule, with the ex- 
tension of democracy. The State must be immediately democratized 
from top to bottom. As indicated by Marx and Engels, the socialist 


revolution begins with this political change: the greatest possible ex- 
tension of democracy. For no other way can socialism — the common 
ownership and democratic social control of the means of production 
and distribution— be made real. 

This is true where a socialist revolution is made possible by existing 
material conditions. But the minority of "vanguard" revolut ionizers 
put in power by the social eruption that has occurred in a backward 
country, face a different problem, and, objectively, a different aim. 
In view of the backwardness of the country whose destiny the 
"vanguard" politicians attempt to fashion, the very hopes and pre- 
tensions of the new rulers call not for the "lopping off" but, in the 
manner of all previous, pre-capitalist, revolutions for the strengthen- 
ing, for the perfection, of the bureaucratic-military State machinery. 

The world has never seen the like of the bureaucratic-military 
machine that was born of the national Russian revolution. Only now 
are the State machines fashioned by the Italian Fascists and the Ger- 
man Nazis beginning to rival the bureaucratic-military "perfection" 
that has been attained in post-revolutionary Russia. 

Is Lenin's half naive, half cunning "pre-election" promise of 1917 
very unlike the grim Soviet reality of today? It is nevertheless true 
that the "ideological"* stuff by means of which the great Soviet hoax 
is perpetrated (as much at the cost of the international working class 
as at the expense of the Russian people) is tapped from Lenin's State 
and Revolution. 

In his State arid Revolution, on the eve of the Bolshevik conquest 
of power, Lenin manipulated craftily some vague formulae found in 
Marx's Civil War in France. "These formulae were sufficiently 
motivated by the immediate need of the General Council (of the First 
International) to defend the Commune of 187 1 (directed by the 
Hebertists and the Proudhonists) against its enemies. But they did 
away almost completely with the margin existing between the thesis 
of the 'conquest of political power' presented by the Marxists and the 
idea of the 'destruction of the State' held by the Anarchists. 

"On the eve of the revolution of October, 1917 . , . Lenin used 
these formulae with such good effect that he accumulated in his theses 
of State and Revolution as many contradictions as were found in the 
heads of all the members of the Commune: Jacobins, Blanquists, 
Hebertists, Proudhonians and Anarchists. Objectively this was neces- 
sary (unrealized without doubt by Lenin himself) so that an attempt 
to create a State machinery very similar in its structure to the former 
military and bureaucratic type and controlled by a few adherents 

* "Ideology" in this case means "rationalization": the trick of "justifying 
or concealing the real cause or motive by a reason, accepted by consciousness, 
wmch is not in accord with the actual (unconscious) determining facts." 

might be presented to the mass of the population, which was then in 
a condition of revolutionary animation, as the destruction of the old 
State machinery, as the rise of a society based on a minimum of repres- 
sion and discipline, as the birth of a Stateless society. At a moment 
when the revolutionary mass expressed its revolt against the centuried 
yoke of the old State by forming 'autonomous republics of Kronstadt' 
and trying Anarchist experiments as 'direct workers* control, 1 etc* — 
at that moment the 'dictatorship of the proletariat and the poorest 
peasants' (said to be incarnated in the real dictatorship of the *true f 
interpreters of the proletariat and poorest peasants: that is, the chosen 
of Bolshevist Communism) could only consolidate itself by first dress- 
ing itself in such Anarchist and anti-State ideology . . , 

"Fundamentally, the Anarchist illusion of the destruction of the 
State covers up the tendency to concentrate all the State power of con- 
straint in the hands of a minority, which believes, neither in the objective 
logic of the revolution nor in the class consciousness of the international 
proletarian majority and, with still less reason, that of the national 

"The idea that the 'Soviet system 1 is equal to a definitive break with 
all the former, bourgeois, forms of revolution, therefore serves as a screen 
behind which — imposed by exterior factors and the inner conformation 
of the proletariat — there are set afoot methods that have featured the 
bourgeois revolutions. And those revolutions have always been ac- 
complished by transferring the power of a 'conscious minority, support- 
ing itself on an unconscious majority,' to another minority finding itself 
in an identical situation." 

This is J. Martov speaking in 1919- With these words, he has 
uncovered for us the "catch" hiding behind the splendid sentiments that 
fill the pages of State and Revolution. He has disclosed for us the 
secret of Sovietism* 

Who was Martov? A Russian Marxist whose personality and 
ideas are so awkwardly avoided in Trotsky's History of the Russian 
Revolution. Plekhanov, Martov and Lenin are the three important 
names of the Russian revolutionary movement. . 

Martov died a tubercular, poverty-stricken exile in 1923. To under- 
stand the man's peculiar position, in Russian history, we must think 
of Lenin, the successful, practical statesman who "arrived" and is now 
reposing in embalmed effigy under the magnificent mausoleum on Red 
Square. We must think of the painted Pharaoh-god in whose name 
the Russian people labor to hold up a pyramidal structure which, with 
the aid of verses culled from the dead one's legacy, is described as 
socialism. We must think of the successfully dead Lenin, whose 
writings are edited, newly marcelled and reedited, in millions of volumes 
by hundreds of subsidized publishers all over the world; whose wise 
sayings and supposed wise sayings are the subject of rapt exegesis by 

— r 

bevies of learned commentators;* in whose writings all kinds of parties 
and partylets — from the powerful concern holding the Russian people 
in its grip to hundreds of splinter grouplets pothering about in the 
Bohemian nooks of Europe anad America — find their ideological 
support and spiritual sustenance. Neither Stalin, the vicar of Lenin 
on earth, nor Fenner Brockway, speaking for the recently Leninized 
IJL.P, of Great Britain, fail to track down a text in the dead Lenin 
before enunciating their last message to the "masses." Lenin, who 
has become the subject of theses written by doctorial candidates for 
the license to profess certified Marxism-Leninism 1 Lenin, now a 
mythological personage that grave professors in Moscow and else- 
where avow to be the Jesus to whom Marx was but an annunciatory 
John the Baptist! 

Lenin's "success" offers us a clue to Martov's character and view- 
point. Martov was one of the founders and collaborators on the 
Iskra, the publication around which the Russian Social Democracy 
developed. In the break that took place at the Party congress of 
1903, he represented the "minority" against the "majority" (Bol- 
shinstvo), which was led by Lenin. The split was motivated especially 
by the question of party organization. Martov upheld the Western 
idea of an inclusive, democratic party in contrast to Lenin's thesis 
of a party of "professional revolutionists" controlled militarily by a 
"central" committee. It is interesting to observe that even in 1903 
Martov recognized that a party on Lenin's style really "belonged" 
to the Tsarist scene and, playing a dominant role, might seize power 
in a national revolution.. However, Martov always asked: "Power 
for what? 1 ' Transcending Menshevism (which, in contrast to the 
more truly national-Russian Bolshevik section, dreamt of transplanting 
the ways and the program of Western reformism to the land of the 
Tsars), Martov looked for the rise of a real movement for socialism 
in the advanced countries of the West. 

We can understand that a person in his situation had no reason to 
be very enthusiastic concerning the near future. Martov, a product 
of the Russian revolutionary movement, was unfortunate enough to be 
able to see beyond the Russian scene and "Laborism" in general. The 
event of the Russian Revolution showed again that the habit of probing 
behind appearances does not go to make a successful politician. 

Martov, the clear thinking social scientist, was not a successful 
politician, dead or alive. He will not go down in history as one of 
Russia's great statesmen, say like Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, 
Catherine the Great, Lenin the Great, Stalin the Great. In the midst 

* There is now apparent in radical literary circles a tendency to impute 
to Lenin all quotable wisdom that used to be credited to Lincoln, Barnum, 
Engels, Marx, Disraeli and even Pushkin. 


of the upheaval of 1917, he located his evaluation of the Russian 
revolutionary problem in the framework of extended historic develop- 
ment. He saw what lay ahead and said so, thus placing himself in 
the position of a helpless Jeremiah. 

He recognized the Russian Revolution to be a progressive, pro- 
capitalist, national revolution that cleared the way for the solution 
of the economic backwardness of the country. He recognized the 
Russian Revolution as a "bourgeois 1 ' revolution, directed in part by 
the proletariat and impregnated with the utopianism typical of the pro- 
letariat of a backward country. He emphasized that the dictatorship 
of the Bolshevik "professional revolutionists" was not to be confused 
with the "dictatorship" of the working class, which, according to him, 
was impossible in a country like Russia. He foresaw that the pre- 
tensions to a program of world revolution affected by the Bolsheviks 
during their "heroic" period served as a sort of camouflage to protect 
their rule, and would in time give way again to the program of Russian 
"national socialism," the traditional and Teal program of Bolshevism. 

We have here an explanation of the plight of his own little group 
of "Internationalists" who, in the first revolutionary Soviet Congresses, 
rejected both the Mcnshevik and Bolshevik positions. Martov stressed 
that the Bolshevik dictatorship of 1918-1919 was a revolutionary 
dictatorship which had ridden into power on the crest of the popular 
protest against adverse conditions and the continuation of the war. 
While he opposed in speech and writing the Bolsheviks 1 strangling of 
democracy and suppression of civil rights^ he indicated that the Bol- 
shevik dictatorship was at its beginning, at least, joined ideologically 
and socially to the Russian and international labor movement. The 
man who predicted that Lenin would beget Stalin opposed in his time 
any attempt to overthrow the Bolshevik dictatorship by force. During 
the Civil War he called on the labor opponents of the Bolsheviks to 
join the Red Army, to fight against Dcnikin, Wrangel and the foreign 

By the end of 1920, the power of the makeshift parliamentary bodies 
(soviets) that arose In Russia at the beginning of the Revolution had 
been entirely replaced, as Martov foresaw, by the rule of the Com- 
munist Party. There was no longer any place in the country for a 
person like Martov. A very amusing instance of Lenin's Bolshevik 
"realism" was his public order to the police not to trouble Martov, 
while, in accordance with private instructions, the Bolshevik Gestapo 
made Martov understand it would be decidedly more healthful for 
him to remove himself from the country. For Martov had made 
himself a nuisance by speaking out against the imposition of capital 
punishment (contrary to the first Soviet Constitution) on pro- 
labor non-Bolsheviks who were merely guilty of having different 
political opinions. And he had spoken out against the habit of the 

Bolshevik bureaucratic-military machine of dealing with their political 
opponents without benefit of trial by jury. For the ideas later expressed 
in Lenin's famous note to Kursky* began to be put in practice as soon as 
the Bolshevik machine had been securely installed in power, and 
Martov's prestige in the Russian revolutionary movement interfered 
with the new dictatorship. 

But even during his years of exile, Martov (while he pointed out 
the historic meaning of the new Russian dictatorship that had replaced 
Tsarism) opposed with untiring propaganda the economic blockade 
of Russia and the campaign of reactionary villification then carried 
on against the Bolshevik government in Western Europe. 

What does Martov mean to us? Why have we taken the trouble 

* The note in question w,as written by Lenin on May 15, 1922. It was 
addressed to D, I. Kursky, who was Commissar of Justice at that time. It was 
written in reference to one of the articles of the Soviet Criminal Code under 
consideration in May, 1922. Here it is : 

15 May [1922] 

Comfracle] Kursky; 

In my opinion it is necessary to extend the application 
of execution by shooting (with the substitution of ex[ile] abr[oad] see 
Art. 1 below) to all phases covering the activities of Mensh[eviks], S[ocial] 
Revolutionaries] and the like; a formula must be found that would place 
these activities in connection with the international bourgeoisie and its 
struggle against us {bribery of the press and agents, war preparations and 
the like). 

Please return this quickly with your reply. 

Lenin's note was published in the Bolshevik (Moscow), issue of January 
15, 1937, page 63— just before the trial of the 17 (Radek, Sokolnikov, et al). 
It was accompanied by the following comment by the savants of the Marx- 
Engels-Lenin Institute: 

* The note to comrade Kursky was written by Vladimir Ilyich on the 
reverse side of the first page, presented to him in printed form, of the 
project for the supplementary law in the Criminal Code, Next to paragraph 
5 of the law, which dealt with the application of capital punishment for 
counter-revolutionary expressions against the Soviet (Bolshevik) govern- 
ment, Lenin wrote on the first page, below: "Add the right to substitute 
for execution exile abro;id, by decision of the All-Russian CE.C. (for a 
period of years or without limit." It was this postscript that Lenin had 
in mind in reference to the note to Kursky Above. 

The note to Kursky emphasized the need for capital punishment for the 
counter-revolutionary activities of Mensheviks, S-Rs and "the like." Lenin 
demanded capital punishment for the counter-revolutionary activities of 
anti-Soviet parties, connected with the war preparations of the international 
bourgeoisie against the Soviet republic and with other forms of the fight 
of international capitalism against our country. That demand of Lenin's 
is likewise entirely applicable to the Troiskyist-Zinoviezdst agents of the 
Gestapo who acted by direct orders of fascism and are a counter-r evolu- 
tionary gang of bandits, spies and diver sioni sis, vicious pnemies of the land 
of toilers. These scoundrels, murderers of Comrade Kirov, are precisely 
such enemies of the Soviet republic for whom Vladimir Ilyich demanded 
severe revolutionary punishment. 


to present to the English speaking workers the writings of this Russian 
Social Democrat? We have taken the trouble to present the writings 
of Martov, a Russian Social Democrat, to the English speaking workers 
because his writings have a definite value in the socialist propaganda 
of our time* 

Martov's usefulness to the still weak international movement for 
socialism lies precisely in the fact that he is a little more than a Social 
Democrat and a Russian Social Democrat. It lies in his ability to 
withstand, at least in part, the drag of the specifically Russian milieu 
that created Menshevism and Bolshevism, the two wings of Russian 
"Laborism." It lies in his ability to consider the event of the Russian 
Revolution from the angle of the future movement for socialism, rather 
than from the viewpoint of militant or less militant, Westernized or 
boldly national, historic opportunism. Though he was part and parcel 
of the Russian revolutionary movement, Martov attempted the feat 
of evaluating from the angle of historic objectivity the events in which 
he was himself an actor. 

The Russian upheaval has had a curious influence on the inter- 
national movement for socialism. Introducing themselves under the 
guise of opposites to the old Social Democratic organizations, the 
militant Communist Parties, organized in all countries after the Bol- 
shevik victory, tried to hitch the post-War discontent to the wagon 
of the national Russian Revolution. If popular comprehension of the 
socialist goal is a necessary condition for the socialist revolution, then 
the Communist Parties will go down in the history of the labor move- 
ment as a force that did a mighty bit to divert, for some time, 
the attention of the international working class from its task of self- 
emancipation. In this game of partly unconscious deception, the issue 
of "Sovietism" has played and continues to play an important role. 
Martov, writing at the time of the greatest enthusiasm over the pros- 
pects of "Soviet" uprisings and "Soviet 13 governments, shows up this 
deception. To anybody who can and would read, the essays gathered 
in this book offer an effective antidote against the Leninist, and l 'Left 
Communist,"* confusion that has addled so many brains since 1918. 
And that remains a very important need, in spite of the effective work 
of clarification already achieved by historic experience itself. 

In the essays gathered in this book, Martov may be said to perform 
for the Russian Revolution a service paralleling that done by Marx 
for the Pan's Commune in his Civil War in France. I write "parallel- 
ing,*' because the primary need in the case of Martov's study of the Rus- 
sian Revolution is not to describe the tasks and program of a "people's 

* I am referring to the naive people who, while repudiating Bolshevism, 

say ; "It must be Soviets 1" — without asking themselves how and where 

these makeshift representative bodies arose and what purpose they served 
in behalf of the shrewd politicians who rode them tD power, 



revolution" but to refute an historic hoax, which, as was seen quite 
early by Martov, imperils the cause of the increase of the socialist 
consciousness of the international working class. 

Of a necessity, Martov's treatment of the illusions manipulated 
by the Bolshevik politicians in 191 8 also brings out his general political 
and social stand. 

Martov expected the workers themselves to accomplish their emanci- 
pation. He believed that with historic experience, the working class 
would undergo a political and moral development and overcome in 
time the current Utopias and swindles in political theory and practice 
fostered among them by various sets of "leaders." He understood 
that the socialist revolution could only take place in countries that 
were economically ripe for socialism. He understood that the political 
setup produced by the socialist revolution could never be the Jacobin 
dictatorship of a revolutionary minority but could only be the cxpres^ 
sion of the majority rule of the population. He believed that after 
the proletariat of the countries economically ripe for socialism had 
once seized power, it could never find itself in a situation where its 
rule was anything else but the majority rule of the population. 

In spite of the object lessons taught by the events of the past twenty 
years, so many "advanced revolutionists" still find such ideas not 
"revolutionary*' enough. Martov had a pitying smile both for the 
"revolutionist a la mode," the revolutionary Bohemian, and the 
"practical" opportunists, the "Kaiser's and King's socialists," His 
study of the political methods and the historic significance of the 
Russian Revolution is dedicated to the "increase and development of 
the socialist consciousness" of the working class of the world, Con- 
sidered from the standpoint of this purpose, political fashions in Bo- 
hemia and current tricks of opportunist "practicalness" are important 
only as, usually unconscious, means of diverting the attention of the 
propertylcss from their historic task. 

The first two sections of this book, The Ideology of Sovietism and 
The Conquest of the State, were written early in 1919. They form 
a compact whole and should be read as such. The first essay appeared 
serially in the periodical Mysl of Kharkov. The introductory section 
of the second was first published in the issues of July 8 and September 
I, 1921, of the Soztalhtkheski Vestnik (Berlin), The remainder of 
the second essay appeared for the first time in Mirovoi Bolshevism 
(World Bolshevism), Berlin, 1923, from the text of which the entire 
present translation was made. The final section, entitled Marx and 
the Problem of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat was first published 
in 1918 in the Workers* International of Moscow,, edited by Martov. 
It deals with the same subject from a more general point of view. 






THE REVOLUTIONARY movement that is tinged with Bol- 
shevism recognizes Soviets as the form of political organization 
(even the sole form) by which the emancipation of the proletariat can 
be realized. 

According to this viewpoint, the soviet State structure — said to be a 
phase in the progressive abolition of the State itself in its role as an 
instrument of social oppression — is the historically motivated product 
of a long evolution, arising in the midst of class antagonisms when 
these have reached great acuteness under imperialism. It is described as 
the perfect embodiment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Appear- 
ing at a time when "bourgeois" democracy is said to have lost all content, 
the soviet regime is pictured as the perfect expression of real democracy. 

However, every perfection has this dangerous feature. Persons un- 
troubled by critical reasoning, persons blind to the nuances of "idle" 
theory, are impatient to possess themselves of the perfection, without 
bothering to take note that the perfection in question is supposed to be 
based on particular historic conditions. Metaphysical reasoning refuses 
to accept the dialectical negation of the absolute. It ignores the rela- 
tive. Having learned that the true, the genuine, the perfect mode of 
social life has at last been discovered, it insists on having this perfect 
mode applied to daily existence. 

We therefore see that, contrary to its own theoretic claims, this per- 
fect political form has become applicable to all peoples, to all social 
groups. All that is necessary is that the people concerned want to 
modify the structure of the State under 1 which it is suffering. Soviets 
have become the slogan for the proletariat of the most advanced in- 
dustrial countries the United States, England, Germany. They are 
also the slogan for agricultural Hungary, peasant Bulgaria and Russia, 
where agriculture is just issuing from primitive structures. 

The universal efficacy of the soviet regime reaches even farther. 
Communist publicists seriously speak of soviet revolutions occurring, 
or about to occur, in Asiatic Turkey, among the Egyptian fellahin, in 
the pampas of South America. In Corea, the proclamation of a soviet 

republic is only a matter of time. In India, China and Persia the 
soviet idea is said to be advancing with the speed of an express train. 
And who dares to doubt that by now the soviet system has already 
been adapted to the primitive social conditions of the Bashkirs, Kirg- 
hizes, Turkomans and the mountaineers of Daghestan? 

No matter what Marxist thought may; have to say on the subject, 
the soviet regime, as such, is not only said to solve the antagonism 
arising between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie under conditions of 
highly developed capitalism, but is also presented as the universal State 
form that cuts through the difficulties and antagonisms arising at any 
degree of social evolution. In theory, the lucky people bursting 
into Soviets are expected to have passed"— at least ideologically — the 
stage of bourgeois democracy. They are expected to have freed them- 
selves from a number of noxious illusions — parliamentarism, the need 
for a universal, direct, equal and secret ballot, the need of liberty of 
the press, etc. Only then can they know the supreme perfection in- 
corporated in the soviet State structure. In practice, however, nations 
here and there, possessed by the metaphysical negation of the course 
traced by soviet theory, jump over the prescribed stages. Soviets are 
the perfect form of the State. They are the magic wand by which all 
inequalities, all misery, may be suppressed. Having once learned about 
Soviets, who would consent to suffer the yoke of less perfect systems 
of government? Having once tasted the sweet, who would choose 
to continue to live on bitterness? 

In February 1918, at Brest-Litovsk, Trotsky and Kamenev still de- 
fended with great obstinance the right of peoples to self-determination. 
They demanded from victorious Germany that this principle be applied, 
through the instrumentality of the equal and universal ballot, in Po- 
land, Lithuania and Latvia. The historic value of democracy was 
still recognized at that time. But a year later, at the congress of the 
Russian Communist Party, the intrepid Bukharine already insisted that 
the principle of "self-determination of peoples" had to be replaced with 
the principle of "self-determination of the laboring classes." Lenin suc- 
ceeded in obtaining the maintenance of the principle of self-determina- 
tion — for backward peoples — paralleling in this respect certain phil- 
osophers who, not wanting to fall out with the Church, would limit 
the scope of their materialist teachings to animals deprived of the bene- 
fits of divine revelation. But it was not for doctrinal reasons that 
the Communist congress refused to fall in line with Bukharine. Lenin 
won out with arguments of a diplomatic order. It was said to be un- 
wise to alienate from the Communist International the Hindoos, Per- 
sians and other peoples who, though still blind to the revelation, were 
in a situation of pan-national struggle against the foreign oppressor. 
Fundamentally, the Communists were in full agreement with Buk- 


harine. Having tasted sweetness, who would offer bitterness to his 
neighbor ? 

So that when the Turkish consul at Odessa permitted himself to 
launch the hoax about the triumph of a soviet revolution in the Otto- 
man empire, not a single Russian newspaper refused to take the obvious 
hoax seriously. Not a single publication showed the slightest skepticism 
concerning the ability of the good Turks to jump over the stages of 
self-determination, universal franchise, bourgeois parliamentarism, etc. 
The mystification, was quite successful. Mystifications rind a favor- 
able soil in mysticism. For no less than mystic is the concept of a 
political form that, by virtue of its particular character, can sur- 
mount all economic-social and national contradictions. 

In the course of the congress of the Independent Social Democratic 
Party of Germany at Leipzig, good men racked their brains to discover 
how to conciliate "all power to the Soviets" with the traditional notions 
of the Social-Democracy concerning the political forms of the socialist 
revolutions, especially with the notion of democracy. 

For here is a mystery that escapes the understanding of the true- 
believers of Sovietism with the same persistence that the mystery of 
the immaculate conception has- ever escaped the understanding of the 
Christian faithful. Sometimes it escaped the understanding of its own 

Thus, we have the amusing example of the reception of the news 
that the soviet idea had triumphed in Hungary. It seemed, at first, that 
everything was performed according to the rites. But one essential 
detail was missing. It was reported that the Hungarian "soviet" did 
not come into being as a result of a fratricidal war of the Hungarian 
proletariat (we shall see later how important is this detail). It was, 
on the contrary, the product of the unity of the Hungarian proletariat. 
Lenin was troubled. In a telegram, the complete text of which ap- 
peared in the foreign press, he asked Bela Kurt: 

"What guarantees have you that your revolution is really a Com- 
munist revolution, that it is not simply a socialist revolution, not a 
revolution by the social-traitors?" 

Bela Kun's reply, published in the Russian press, betrayed some con- 
fusion and a lack of preciseness. The Hungarian revolutionary power, 
it appeared, rested in the hands of a group of five persons, two of whom 
were Communists, two social-democrats and the fifth "in the same 
category as your Lunacharsky." The mystery had grown thicker. 

As a result of the extreme class antagonism between the proletariat 
and the bourgeoisie, the proletariat overthrows the most complete em- 
bodiment of democratic statism. By this act, the proletariat creates 
itself a new political mode, which is also the specific expression of the dic- 
tatorship of the proletariat* Here is the starting point of the "soviet 


The political mode thus created is universally applicable. It fits the 
needs and consequences of all kinds of social change. It can clothe 
the multiform substance of all the revolutionary acts of the twentieth 
century. That is the "soviet idea" at the close of its own evolution. 

This dialectical contradiction summarizes the mystery of "sovietism/* 
which is a mystery beyond the dogmatic comprehension of thinkers, 
both on the Left and on the Right. 


THE MECHANISM of the popular revolutions of the preceding 
historic period had the fulluwing characteristics. 

The role of active factor in the overturn belonged to minorities of 
the social classes in whose interest the revolution developed. These 
minorities exploited the confused discontent and the sporadic explosions 
of anger arising among scattered and socially inconsistent elements 
within the revolutionary class. They guided the latter in the destruc- 
tion of the old social forms. In certain cases, the active leader mi- 
norities had to use the power of their concentrated energy in order to 
shatter the inertia of the elements they tried to wield for revolutionary 
purposes. Therefore, these active leader minorities sometimes made 
efforts — often successful efforts — to repress the passive resistance of 
the manipulated elements, when the latter refused to move forward 
toward the broadening and deepening of the revolution. The dictator- 
ship of an active revolutionary minority, a dictatorship that tended to 
be terrorist, was the normal coming-to-a-head of the situation in which 
the old social order had confined the popular mass, now called on by 
the revolutionaries to forge their own destiny* 

There where the active revolutionary minority was not able to or- 
ganize such a dictatorship, or to maintain it for some time, as was the 
case in Germany, Austria, France in 1848 — we observed the miscar- 
riage of the revolutionary process, a collapse of the revolution, 

Engels said that the revolutions of the past historic period were the 
work of conscious minorities exploiting the spontaneous revolt of un- 
conscious majorities. 

It is understood that the word "conscious" should be taken here in 
a relative sense. It was a question of pursuing political and social alms 
that were quite definite, though at the same time quite contradictory 
and Utopian. The ideology of the Jacobins of 1793-1794 was thor- 
oughly Utopian. It cannot be considered to have been the product of 
an objective conception of the process of historic evolution. But in 
relation to the mass of peasants, small producers and workers in whose 
name they demolished the old regime, the Jacobins represented a con- 


scious vanguar-d whose destructive work was subordinated to positive 

In the last decade of the 19th century, Engels arrived at the conclu- 
sion that the epoch of revolutions effected by conscious minorities head- 
ing unknowing masses had closed for ever. From then on, he said, 
revolution would be prepared by long years of political propaganda, 
organization, education, and would be realized directly and consciously 
by the interested masses themselves* 

To such a degree has this idea become the conception of the great 
majority of modern socialists that the slogan: "All power to the So- 
viets r was originally launched as an answer to the need of assuring, 
during the revolutionary period, the maximum of active and conscious 
participation and the maximum of initiative by the masses in the task 
of social creation. 

Read again Lenin's articles and speeches of 1917 and you will dis- 
cover that their master thought, "all power to the Soviets/' amounted 
then to the following: I. the direct and active participation of the 
masses in the management of production and public affairs; 2. the 
obliteration of all gaps between the directors and the directed, that is, 
the suppression of any social hierarchy; 3, the greatest possible unifi- 
cation of the legislative and executive powers, of the production ap- 
paratus and the administrative apparatus, of the State machinery and 
the machinery of local administration; 4. the maximum of activity 
by the mass and the minimum of liberty for its elected representatives; 
5, the total suppression of ail bureaucracy. 

Parliamentarism was repudiated not only as the arena where two 
enemy classes collaborate politically and engage in "pacific" combats, 
but also as a mechanism of public administration. And this repudiation 
was motivated, above all, by the antagonism arising between this 
mechanism and the unbounded revolutionary activity of the mass f 
intervening directly in administration and production. 

In August 1917, Lenin wrote: 

"Having conquered political power, the workers will break up the 
old bureaucratic apparatus; they will shatter it to its very foundations, 
until not one stone is left upon another: and they will replace it with 
a new one consisting of the same workers and employees, against whose 
transformation into bureaucrats will at once be undertaken, as pointed 
out in detail by Marx and Engels: 1. not only electiveness, but also 
instant recall; 2 + payment no higher than that of ordinary workers; 
3. immediate transition to a state of things when all fulfil the functions 
of control and superintendence, so that all become 'bureaucrats for a 
time, and no one, therefore can become a bureaucrat/ '' {The State and 
Revolution, page 103, early Russian edition,) 

He wrote of the "substitution of a universal popular militia for the 



police, 1 ' of the "electiveness and recall at any moment of all function- 
aries and commanding ranks/' of "workers' control in its primitive 
sense, direct participation of the people at the courts, not only in the 
shape of a jury but also by the suppression of specializing prosecutors 
and defense counsels and by the vote of all present on the question of 
guilt." That is how the replacement of the old bourgeois democracy 
with the soviet regime was interpreted in theory — and sometimes in 

It was this conception of "all power to the Soviets" that was pre- 
sented in the first Constitution — adopted at the third Soviet Congress 
on the initiative of V. Troutovsky. It recognized the complete power 
of the communal soviet within the limits of the **volost/' the power 
of the district soviet within the bounds of the "ouyezd," that of the 
provincial soviet within the limits of the "gubernia/' while the unify- 
ing functions of each of the higher soviet organs expressed themselves 
in the levelling of the differences arising among the organs subordin- 
ated to it. 

Anticipating the argument that such extreme federalism might un- 
dermine national unity, Lenin wrote in the same brochure: 

"Only people full of petty-bourgeois 'superstitious faith' in the State 
can mistake the destruction of the bourgeois State for the destruction 
of centralism. But will it not be centralism if the proletariat and 
poorest peasantry take the power of the State in their own hands, or- 
ganize themselves freely into communes, and unite the action of alt 
the communes in striking at capital, in crushing the resistance of the 
capitalists, in the transfer of private property in railways, factories, 
land and so forth, to the entire nation, to the whole of society? Will 
that not be centralism?" (Page 50, early Russian edition.) 

Reality has cruelly shattered all these illusions. The "Soviet State" 
has not established in any instance electiveness and recall of public 
officials and the commanding staff. It has not suppressed the profes- 
sional police. It has not assimilated the courts in direct jurisdiction by 
the masses. It has not done away with social hierarchy in production. 
It has not lessened the total subjection of the local community to the 
power of the State. On the contrary, in proportion to its evolution, the 
Soviet State shows a tendency in the opposite direction. It shows a 
tendency toward intensified centralism of the State, a tendency 
toward the utmost possible strengthening of the principles of 
hierarchy and compulsion. It shows a tendency toward the develop- 
ment of a more specialized apparatus of repression than before. It 
shows a tendency toward the greater independence of the usually elec- 
tive functions and the annihilation of the control of these functions by 
the elector masses- It shows a tendency toward the total freedom of the 
executive organisms from the tutelage of the electors. In the crucible 


of reality, the "power of the Soviets" has become the "soviet power/ 1 
id power that originally issued from the Soviets but has steadily become 
^independent from the Soviets. 

We must believe that the Russian ideologists of the soviet system 
have not renounced entirely their notion of a non-Statal social order, 
the aim of the revolution. But as they see matters now, the road to 
this non-Statal social order no longer lies in the progressive atrophy of 
the functions and institutions that have been forged by the bourgeois 
State, as they said they saw things in 191 7. Now it appears that their 
way to a social order that would be free from the State lies in the 
hypertrophy — the excessive development— of these functions and in 
the resurrection, under an altered aspect, of most State institutions 
typical of the bourgeois era. The shrewd people continue to repudiate 
democratic parliamentarism. But they no longer repudiate, at the 
same time, those instruments of State power to which parliamentarism 
-&*_££ a counterweight within bourgeois society : bureaucracy, police, a 
permanent army with commanding cadres that are independent of 
the soldiers, courts that are above control by the community, etc. 

In contrast to the bourgeois State, the State of the transitional revo- 
lutionary period ought to be an apparatus for the "repression of the 
minority by the majority." Theoretically, it should be a governmental 
apparatus resting in the hands of the majority. In reality, the Soviet 
State continues to be, as the State of the past, a government apparatus 
resting in the hands of a minority. (Of another minority, of course.) 
Little by little, the "power of the Soviets" is being replaced with the 
power of a certain party. Little by little the party becomes the es- 
sential State institution, the framework and axis of the entire system 
of "soviet republics."! 

The evolution traversed by the idea of the "Soviet State" in Russia 
ought to help us to understand the psychological basis of this idea 
in countries where the revolutionary process of today is yet in its initial 

The "soviet regime" becomes the means of bringing into power and 
maintaining in power a revolutionary minority which claims to defend 
the interests of a majority, though the latter has not recognized these 
interests as its own, though this majority has not attached itelf suffi- 
ciently to these interests to defend them with all its energy and deter- 

This is demonstrated by the fact that in many countries — it hap- 
pened also in Russia— the slogan "all power to the Soviets" is launched 
in opposition to the already existing soviets, created during the first 
manifestations of the revolution. The slogan is directed, in the first 
place, against the majority of the working class, against the political 
tendencies which dominated the masses at the beginning of the revolu- 


tion* The slogan "all power to the soviets" becomes a pseudonym for 
the dictatorship of a minority. So that when the failure of July 3, 1917, 
had brought to the surface the obstinate resistance of the Soviets to 
Bolshevik pressure, Lenin tore off the diguise in his pamphlet; On the 
Subject of Slogans and proclaimed that the cry "All Power to the 
Soviets]" was thenceforward out of date and had to be replaced with the 
slogan: "All power to the Bolshevik Party!" 

But this "materialization" of the symbol, this revelation of its true 
content, was only a moment: in the development of the perfect political 
form, "finally discovered' 1 and exclusively possessing the "capacity of 
bringing out the social substance of the proletarian revolution*" 

The retention of political power by the minority of a class (or 
classes), by a minority organized as a party and exercising its power in 
the interests of the class (or classes), is a fact arising from antagon- 
isms typical of the most recent phase of capitalism. It thus offers 
a difference between the old revolutions and the new. On the other 
hand, the fact that it is a dictatorship by a minority constitutes a bond 
of kinship between the present revolution and those of the preceding 
historic period. If that is the basic principle of the governmental 
mechanism in question, it hardly matters if the exigency of given his- 
toric circumstances have made this principle assume the particular form 
of Soviets. 

The events of 1792-1794 in France offer an example of a revolution 
that was realized by means of a minority dictatorship set up as a party; 
the Jacobin dictatorship. The Jacobin party embraced the most active, 
"the most "leftward/* elements of the petty-bourgeoisie, proletariat, and 
declassed intellectuals. It exercised its dictatorship through a network 
of multiple institutions: communes, sections, clubs, revolutionary com- 
mittees. In this network producers' organizations on the style of our 
workers' Soviets were completely absent. Otherwise, there is a strik- 
ing similarity, and a number of perfect analogies, between the institu- 
tions used by the Jacobins and those serving the contemporary dictator- 
ship. The party cells of today differ in no way from the Jacobin clubs. 
The revolutionary committees in 1794 and 1919 are entirely alike. 
The committees of poor peasants of today bear comparison with the 
committees and clubs, composed especially of poor elements, on which 
the Jacobin dictatorship based itself in the villages. Today, workers' 
Soviets, factory committees, trade union centers, mark the revolution 
with their stamp and give it its specific character. Here is where the 
influence of the proletariat in the large industries of today makes itself 
felt. Nevertheless, we see that such specifically class organisms, such 
specially proletarian formations, issuing from the milieu of modern in- 
dustry, are as much reduced to the role of mechanical instruments of 
a party minority dictatorhip as were the auxiliaries of the Jacobin die- 


tatorship in i792-i794> though the social origins of the latter were 
entirely different. 

Placed in the concrete conditions of contemporary Russia, the Bol- 
shevik party dictatorship reflects, in the first place, the interests and 
aspirations of the proletarian elements of the population. This would 
be truer in the case of Soviets that might have arisen in advanced in- 
dustrial countries. But the nature of the Soviets, their adaptation to 
producers' organizations, is not the decisive factor here. We saw that 
after the 3rd of July, 19 1 7, Lenin envisaged the direct dictatorship of 
the Bolshevik party, outside of the Soviets. We see now that in certain 
places such a dictatorship is fully realized through the channel of revo- 
lutionary committees and party cells. All of this does not stop the 
party dictatorship {direct or indirect) from preserving in its class 
policy a primordial lien with the proletariat and reflecting, above ail, 
the interests and aspirations of the city laboring population. 

On the other hand, as organizational cadres, the Soviets may find 
themselves filled with elements that have a different class character. 
At the side of the workers' Soviets, rise Soviets of soldiers and peasants. 
So that in countries that are even more backward economically than 
Russia, the power of the Soviets may represent something other than 
a proletarian minority. It may represent there a peasant minority, 
or any other non-proletarian section of the population. 

The mystery of the "soviet regime" is now deciphered. We see now 
how an organism that is supposedly created by the specific peculiarities 
of a labor movement corresponding to the highest development of 
capitalism is revealed to be, at the same time, suitable to the needs of 
countries knowing neither large capitalist production, nor a powerful 
bourgeoisie, nor a proletariat that has evolved through the experience 
of the class struggle. 

In other words, in the advanced countries, the proletariat resorts, 
we are told, to the soviet form of the dictatorship as soon as its elan 
toward the social revolution strikes against the impossibility of realiz- 
ing its power in any other way than through the dictatorship of a 
minority, a minority within the proletariat itself. 

The thesis of the "finally discovered form," the thesis of the political 
form that, belonging to the specific circumstances of the imperialist 
phase of capitalism, is said to be the only form that can realize the 
social enfranchisement of the proletariat, constitutes the historically 
necessary illusion by whose effect the revolutionary section of the prole- 
tariat renounces its belief in its ability to draw behind it the majority 
of the population of the country and resuscitates the idea of the min- 
' ority dictatorship of the Jacobins In the very form used by the bourgeois 
revolution of the 18th century. Must we recall here that this revolu- 
tionary method has been repudiated by the working class to the extent 


that it has freed itself from its heritage of petty-bourgeois revolu- 
tionarism ? 

As soon as the slogan ^'soviet regime" begins to function as a pseudo- 
nym under the cover of which the Jacobin and Blanquist idea of a 
minority dictatorship is reborn in the ranks of the proletariat, then the 
soviet regime acquires a universal acceptation and is said to be adapt- 
able to any kind of revolutionary overturn. In this new sense, the 
"soviet form" is necessarily devoid of the specific substance that bound 
it to a definite phase of capitalist development. It now becomes a uni- 
versal form 3 which is supposed to be suitable to any revolution accom- 
plished in a situation of political confusion, when the popular masses 
are not united, while the bases of the old regime have been eaten away 
in the process of historical evolution. 


THE REVOLUTIONARY sectors of the population do not be- 
lieve thcmsmelves able to draw along with them the majority of 
the country on the road to socialism. Here is the secret of the spread 
of the "soviet idea" in the confused consciousness of the European 

* Thus Karl Radek, the apostle, to the benighted West, of the neo-Com- 
munist "dialectical" credo, justified the Russian sort of dictatorship: 

"In no country can the revolution begin as an action of the majority- 
Capitalism implies not merely a physical mastership over the means of pro- 
duction, but also a spiritual dominion over the masses of the people; and 
in the most developed capitalist countries, under the stress of misery and 
dire need, under the burden of such consequences of capitalism, as this war, 
■the whole body of the oppressed arises. The most active are always the 
first -to rise. It is a minority which carries out the revolution, the success 
of which depends on the fact whether this revolution corresponds with the 
historical development, with the interests of the masses of the people, who 
can shake off the rule of the class hitherto governing them. But first the 
creative and impulsive force of the revolution is required to rouse the great 
body of the people to liberate them from their intellectual and spiritual 
slavishiie-ss under capitalism, and to lead them into a position where a de- 
fence of their interests can be made. It might fairly be said that every 
revolution is undertaken by the minority; the majority only joins in during 
the course of the revolution and decides the victorious issue ..." (Socialism 
from Science to Practice, page 17, Socialist Labor Press, Glasgow,) 

This is, indeed, leading socialism from science to practice. And what 

Here is the Whole of the "art of revolution," presented as revolutionary 
Marxism in the adventurous first years of the Communist International, 
and still practiced, in the cafes and tea houses of New York and Paris, by 
the latter-day exponents of "Bolshevism-Leninism," those theoretically fero- 
cious Trotskyitcs, who in spite of the alarms broadcast by official Com- 
munism are really gentle and harmless in practice.— Translator. 


Now the majority opposing socialism, or backing parties that oppose 
socialism, may include numerous worker elements. To the extent that 
this is true, the principle of "soviet rule" implies not only the repudia- 
tion of democracy in the framework of the nation but also the suppres- 
sion of democracy within the working class. 

In theory, soviet rule does not annul democracy. In theory, soviet 
rule merely limits democracy to the workers and the "poorest peas- 
antry." But the essence of democracy is not expressed — either exclu- 
sively or in principle — by mathematically universal suffrage. The 
"universal suffrage" attained by the most advanced countries before 
the Russian Revolution excluded women, the military, and sometimes 
young people up to the age of 25. These exceptions did not deprive 
these countries of a democratic character, as long as inside the majority 
called on to exercise the sovereignty of the people there remained a 
degree of democracy consistent with the preservation of the capitalist 
basis of society.* 

For this reason, denying electoral rights to bourgeois and rentiers, 
and even to members of the liberal professions — an eventuality ad- 
mitted by Plckhanov for the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat 
— does not of itself make the "soviet" regime something absolutely un- 
democratic. We may even suppose such a measure to be entirely com- 
patible with the development of other features of democracy, which, 
in spite of the limitation of electoral rights, may really make of the 
regime "a democracy more perfect" than any previous political form 
based on the social domination of the bourgeoisie. 

The exclusion of the bourgeois minority from participation in State 
power may not necessarily help to consolidate the power of the majority. 
It may even himder this object by tending to impoverish the social value 
of the popular will expressed in the electoral struggle. That is not, 
however, sufficient to make the soviet system undemocratic. 

What gives the soviet system this character is the suppression of 

+ Does Martov suggest that the capitalist class, or rather its political 
servants, can do away with democracy, with popular representation, as soon 
as the latter threatens the existing order? 

Under capitalism, observed Engels, "the possessing class rules directly 
through universal franchise" {Q rig fa of the Family) —that is, by virtue 
of the interested, motivated, support of the great majority of the population. 
Even the master-minds superintending the Fascist, Nazi and Soviet-Com- 
munist political superstructures of modern capitalism realize that they do 
not and cannot rule for any length of time against the will of the over- 
whelming majority of the population. The working slaves of capitalism 
cannot, in great numbers, be whipped into performing their tasks, as were 
the slaves who built the pyramids. There is a mighty difference of technology. 
So that even the State machinery manipulated by the latter-day "dictator- 
ships" rests on a "democratic/' mass basis, which is lovingly cared for by 
the "dictators," — Translator. 


democracy also in the relations among the privileged citizens who are 
called on to become the holders of State power. 

The following are the inalienable tokens of a democratic regime, no 
matter how limited is the circle of citizens to whom they apply: 

1. The absolute submission of the entire executive apparatus to 
popular representation (even though in the case of the Soviets it does 
not comprise all citizens)* 

2. The electiveness and recall of the administration, of judges, of 
the police. The democratic organization of the army. 

3* The control and publicness of all administrative acts. 

4. The liberty of political coalition (though it may mean liberty 
only for the "privileged," in the mentioned sense of the term). 

5. The inviolability of the citizens* individual and collective rights 
and protection against any abuses on the part of the final agents of 
State power. 

6. Citizens* liberty to discuss all State questions. Citizens* right 
and power to exercise freely pressure on the governmental mechanism. 
Etc., etc. 

We find in history democratic republics that admitted slavery 
(Athens, for example). The theoreticians of sovietism have never re- 
jected the democratic principles enumerated above. On the contrary, 
they have affirmed that on the reduced electoral base of the Soviets 
these principles will develop as they never were able on the more exten- 
sive foundation of capitalist democracy. We must not forget Lenin's 
promise that all the workers would participate directly in the admin- 
istration of the State, all soldiers in the election of officers, that police 
and officialdom as such would be suppressed. 

The absence of democracy •within the soviet system presumes that 
the proletarian (revolutionary) elements building the regime recognize 
the existence of the following conditions: 

1. The working class forms a minority in a hostile population. 

2. Or it is itself divided into fractions struggling for power among 

3. Or the two given phenomena exist simultaneously. 

In all the mentioned cases, the real reason for the popularity of the 
"soviet idea" is found in the desire to repress the will of all other 
groups of the population, including proletariat groups, in order to as- 
sure the triumph of a determined revolutionary minority. 
Charles Naine, the well-known Swiss militant, writes: 
"At the beginning of 1918, we were in a panic. There was no time 
to delay. Soviets of workers, soldiers and peasants had to be formed 
in Switzerland immediately and a red guard constituted. The know- 
ing minority had to impose its will on the majority, even by brute 
force. The great mass, the workers, are in economic slavery. They 


cannot accomplish their own liberation. Their minds are formed 
by their masters; they are incapable of understanding their true inter- 
ests. It is left to the knowing minority to free the mass from the tute- 
lage of its present masters. Only after this is done will the mass 
understand. Scientific socialism is the truth. The minority possessing 
the knowledge of the truth of scientific socialism has the right to impose 
it on the mass. Parliament is only an obstruction. It is an instrument 
of reaction. The bourgeois press poisons the minds of the people. It 
should be suppressed. Later, that is, after the social order will have 
been totally transformed by the socialist dictators, liberty and democ- 
racy will be reconstituted. Then the citizens will be in the position 
to form a real democracy; they will then be free from the economic 
regime which, oppressing them, keeps them at present from manifesting 
their true will." (Charles Naine: Dktature du proletariat ou demo- 
cratic, page 7). 

Only the blind and the hypocritical will fail to recognize that Charles 
Naine has presented here, divested of its usual phraseologic ornamen- 
tation, the ideology of Bolshevism. It is in this shape that the latter 
has been assimilated by the masses in Russia, Germany, Hungary, and 
wherever Bolshevism has made its appearance. 

This phraseological ornamentation does not always succeed in hiding. 
There is, for example, the important statement by P. Orlovsky {V. 
Vorovsky, later Soviet representative at Rome, killed in Lausanne, May 
I923> ed.) t entitled "The Communist International and the World 
Soviet Republic." The author proposes to deal with the "crux" of the 
question of the soviet system. 

"The soviet system/' he writes, "merely implies participation of the 
popular masses in the administration of the State: but it does not assure 
them either mastery or even a predominant influence (in the adminis- 
tration of the State)." 

If we substitute the words "parliamentary democracy" for the term 
"soviet system," we get as elementary a "truth" as the one expressed 
by Orlovsky. Indeed, developed democratic parliamentarism assures 
the masses of the opportunity to participate in State administration. 
It does not, however, guarantee their political domination. 

Here is Orlovsky's conclusion : 

"Only when the soviet system has put the effective State power in 
the hands of the Communists, that is to say in the party of the working 
class, may the workers and other exploited elements obtain access to 
the exercise of State power as well as the possibility of reconstructing 
the State on a new basis, conforming to their needs, etc." 

In other words, the soviet system is good as long as it is in the hands 
of the Communists. For "as soon as the bourgeoisie succeeds in possess- 
ing itself of the Soviets (as was the case in Russia under Kerensky and 


now — in 1919 — in Germany), it utilizes them against the revolutionary 
workers and peasants, just as the Tsars used the soldiery, sprung from 
the people, to oppress the people. Therefore, Soviets can fulfill a revo- 
lutionary role, and free the working masses, only when they are dom- 
inated by the Communists. And for the same reason, the growth of 
soviet organizations in other countries is a revolutionary phenomenon 
in the proletarian sense — not merely in the petty-bourgeois sense — only 
when this growth is paralleled by the triumph of communism," 

There could be no clearer statement. The "soviet system*' is an in- 
strument which permits State poiver to slip into the hands of the Com- 
munists. The instrument is put aside as soon as it has fulfilled its his- 
toric function. That is never said, of course. 

"The Communist Party, that is to say, the party of the working 
class ..." The principle is always posed in these words. Not one of 
the parties — nor even "the most advanced party," nor the "party most 
representative of the interests of the proletarian class." No, but the 
"only real worker party." 

Orlovsky's idea is excellently illustrated in the resolutions adopted 
by the Communist conference at Kashine, published in Pravda No. 3, 

"The middle peasant may be admitted to power, even when he does 
not belong to the party, if he accepts the soviet platform — with the 
reservation that the preponderant role of direction in the Soviets must 
remain with the party of the proletariat. It is absolutely inadmissible 
to leave the Soviets entirely into the hands of the non-party middle 
peasants. That would expose all the conquests of the proletarian revo- 
lution to the danger of complete destruction, at a moment when the 
last and decisive battle against international reaction is taking place. 3 ' 

The Communists at Kashine contented themselves with baring the 
real meaning of the "dictatorship" only in so far as it applied to the 
peasantry. But everybody knows that the same solution also disposes 
of the "middle" worker. We are dealing here with a "worker and 
peasant" power and not merely with a "worker" power. 

What originally made the "soviet idea" so attractive to socialists was, 
no doubt, their unlimited confidence in the collective intelligence of the 
working class, their confidence in the workers' ability to attain, by 
means of the "dictatorship of the proletariat," a condition of complete 
self -administration, excluding the shadow of tutelage by a- minority. 
The first enthusiasm for the soviet system was an enthusiasm spring- 
ing from the desire to escape the framework of the hierarchically or- 
ganized State. 

Ernest Dseumig (Left Independent) stated in his eloquent report, 
at the first Pan-German Congress of Soviets, held from the 16th to 
the 2 1st of December, 191 8: 

"The present German revolution is distinguished by its possession 
of deuccdly little confidence in its own forces. We are still suffering 
from the spirit of military subservience and passive obedience, our 
heritage from the past centuries. This spirit cannot be killed by mere 
electoral struggles, by election tracts passed out among the masses every 
two or three years. It can only be destroyed by a sincere and powerful 
effort to maintain the German people in a condition of permanent 
political activity. This cannot be realized outside of the soviet system. 
We ought to finish, once for always, with the entire old administrative 
machinery of the Reich, of the independent (German) States, of the 
municipalities. To substitute self-administration for administration 
from above should become more and more the aim of the German 

And at the same congress, the Spartacist Heckert declared: 

"The Constituent Assembly (Parliament) will be a reactionary in- 
stitution even if it has a socialist majority. The reason for this is 
that the German people is completely apolitical. It asks to be led. It 
has not as yet made the smallest act that might be evidence of its de- 
sire to become master of its own destiny. Here in Germany people 
wait to have liberty brought to them by leaders. Liberty is not created 
at the base." 

"The soviet system," he continued, "is an organization confiding to 
the large masses the direct task of constructing the social edifice. The 
Constitutional Assembly (Parliament), on the other hand, leaves this 
function to leaders," 

We have struck here against something especially interesting. In 
the same report that glorifies the Soviets as a guarantee of the self- 
administration of the working class, Dieumig gives a rather dark pic- 
ture of the real German Soviets, personified in their congress of 1918: 

"No revolutionary parliament in history has revealed itself more 
timorous, more commonplace, meaner, than the revolutionary parlia- 
ment here congregated. 

"Where is the great breath of idealism that dominated and moved the 
French National Convention? Where is the youthful enthusiasm of 
March 1848? There is not a trace of either." 

And though he finds the German "soviets" timorous, limited and 
mean, Dfleumig seeks the key to all the problems raised by the social 
revolution in the delivery of "all power to the Soviets." All power 
to the timorous as a means of throwing ourselves boldly beyond the easy 
formula of universal suffrage! A bizarre paradox? Oh, no! The 
paradox hides a very precise significance, which if it still remains in 
the "subconscious" for Dasumig, attains conscious expression in P. 
Orlovsky's formula: "With the aid of the soviet system, State power 
passes into the hands of the Cotmnunists" Put another way — through 



the internet diary of the Soviets, the revolutionary minority secures its 
domination over the "timorous majority?* 

Dieumig's observation was in complete agreement with the facts* 
In the first Pan-German Congress of Soviets, Scheidema-nn's partisans 
and the soldiers held an overwhelming majority. The congress smelled 
of timidity and meanness of viewpoint. Four and a half years of 
"class collaboration" and "brotherhood of the trenches" have not failed 
to leave marks both on the worker in overalls and the worker in military 

And just as correct as Daeumig were the Bolsheviks in June, 1917, 
when they threw up their hands in indignation at the despairing 
narrow-mindedness that dominated the first Pan-Russian Congress of 
Soviets, though at its head was a politician like Tseretelii, an individual 
who had, to an exceptional degree, the ability to raise the mass above 

• its every-day level. We, the Internationalists, who had the pleasure 
of being a tiny minority at this Congress, also despaired at the timidity 
and lack of understanding shown again and again by the immense 
"flow-bog" of the Menshevik and Social-Revolutionary majority in 
the face of stupendous world events and the most weighty political and 
social problems. We could not understand why the Bolsheviks, who 
showed such great indignation at the spirit dominating the Congress, 
should nevertheless call for "All power to the Soviets!" We refused to 
understand them even when, in view of the existing situation, they or- 
ganized a demonstration the object of which was to force an assembly 
of this character to possess itself fully of State power. 

s I have already mentioned that the fear of making possible the 
triumph of the "timorous" majority pushed Lenin, after the 3rd of 
July, 191 7, to repudiate, as outdated) the slogan: "All power to the 
Soviets!" We find a German analogy to this in the Spartacist decision 
to boycott the election to the second (April) Pan-German Congress 
of Soviets. 

The consequent course of the Russian revolution cured Lenin of his 
passing "lack of faith." The soviets fulfilled the role expected of them. 
The rising tide of bourgeois revolutionary enthusiasm set in motion 
the worker and peasant masses, washing away their "meanness." 
Lifted by the wave, the Bolsheviks possessed themselves of the govern- 
ment apparatus. Then the role of the insurrectionary element came 
to an end. The Moor had accomplished his task. The State that 
came into being with the aid of the 'Tower of the Soviets" became 
the "Soviet Power." The Communist minority incorporated in this 
State made itself secure, once for always, against a possible return of 
the spirit of "meanness," The idea slowly engendered in the subcon- 
scious reached its full development in the theory of P. Orlovsky and 
the practice of the Kashine Communists. 


Dictatorship as a means of protecting the people against the reac- 
tionary narrowness of the p\eople- — such is the historic point of depart- 
ure of {19th century) revolutionary communism at the time when the 
worker class, which it claims to represent, begins to see through the 
lies and hypocrisy of the liberty proclaimed by capitalism. 

Buonarotti, the theoretician of Babeuf's plot of 1796, concluded that 
as soon as State power was taken over by the communists they would 
find it necessary to isolate France from other countries by an insuper- 
able barrier — in order to preserve the masses from bad influences. No 
publication, he declared, might appear in France without the authoriza- 
tion of the communist government, 

"All socialists, excepting the Fourierists," wrote Weitling in 1840, 
"subscribe unanimously to the belief that the form of government called 
democracy does not suit, and is even prejudicial to, the social organiza- 
tion whose principles are being shaped at this moment." 

Etienne Cabet wrote that socialist society could allow, in each city, 
a single newspaper, which would of course be issued by the govern- 
ment. The people were to be protected against the temptation of seek- 
ing the truth in the clash of opinions. 

In 1S39, at the political trial devoted to the insurrection led by 
Blanqui and Barbes, much was made of a communist catechism found 
on the accused. This catechism dealt among other things with the 
problem of dictatorship: 

"It is unquestionable that after a revolution accomplished in behalf 
of our ideas, there will be created a dictatorial power whose mission it 
will be to direct the revolutionary movement. This dictatorial power 
will of necessity base itself on the assent of the armed population, which, 
acting in the general interest, will evidently represent the enlightened 
will of the great majority of the nation. 

"To be strong, to act quickly, the dictatorial power will have to be 
concentrated in as small a number of persons as possible . . . To un- 
dermine the old society, to destroy it at its base, to overthrow the for- 
eign and domestic enemies of the Republic, to prepare the new founda- 
tions of social organization and, finally, to lead the people from the 
revolutionary government to a regular republican government— such 
are the functions of the dictatorial power and the limits of its duration/' 
(Bourguin, Le socialisme frangais de 1789 a 1848, Paris, 1912.) 

One may ask if the doctrine of those that stand for "power to the 
soviets," in the manner of P. Orlovsky and the Kashine Communists, 
is much different from that of the Parisian communists of 1839. 



THE WORKING class is a product of capitalist society* Its mind 
is subjected to the influence of capitalist society. Its consciousness 
is developed under the pressure of the bourgeois masters. The school, 
the church, the barracks, the factory, the press, social life, all contribute 
to form the consciousness of the proletarian masses. They are all 
potent factors in the service of bourgeois ideas and tendencies. Accord- 
ing to Charles Name, it was on this observation of fact that the revo- 
lutionary socialists, at least in Switzerland, based their belief in the 
necessity of a dictatorship by a minority of conscious proletarians over 
the nation and even over, the majority of the proletariat itself, 

Emilc Pouget, the prominent syndicalist leader, wrote: 

". . . If democratic mechanism were applied in the labor organiza- 
tions, the lack of will on the part of the unconscious majority would 
paralyze all action. The minority is not disposed to abdicate its claim 
and aspirations before the inertia of a mass that has- not yet been quick- 
ened by the spirit of revolt. Therefore, the conscious minority has an 
obligation to act without considering the outlook of the refractory 
mass . . . 

"The amorphous mass . . . numerous and compact though it be, has 
little reason to complain. It is the first to benefit by the action of the 
minority.,. . ti A^$ 

"Who could complain against the disinterested initiative of the 
minority? Certainly not the unconscious folk to whom the militants 
barely attribute the role of human zeros — and who acquire the numeri- 
cal value of a zero only when added to the right of a number. 

"Here is the enormous difference of method distinguishing syndical- 
ism from democratism. Through its machinery of universal suffrage, 
the latter puts the function of guidance in the hands of the uncon- 
scious, the backward, or worse, their representatives. Democratism 
stifles the minorities that bear in them the future. The syndicalist 
method gives diametrically opposite results. The impetus is given by 
the conscious ones, by the rebels. All good wills arc called on to act, 
to participate in the movement." 1 

The recognition of the inevitable mental enslavement of the prole- 

1 From an article by Pouget : "L'organization et Taction de la Confederation 
Generate du Travail" ("The Organization and Action of the General Con- 
federation of Labor") published in the collection of Le mouvement social dans 
la France contemporaine, pages 34-36. 


tarian masses by the capitalist class forms also one of the premises of 
P. Orlovsky's conclusions, given in the preceding chapter. 

This idea flows, without doubt, from a materialist viewpoint. It is 
based on the observation that the thought of man depends on the mate- 
rial environment. 

This idea characterized many socialists and communists, Utopian 
and revolutionary, at the end of the i8th century and the beginning 
of the 19th. 

We can discover its traces in Robet Owen, Cabet, Weitling, Blanqut. 
All recognized that the mental enslavement of the masses came from 
the material circumstances of their existence in the present society. 
And all deduced from this condition that only a radical modification 
of the material circumstances of their existence, only a radical trans- 
formation of society, would render the masses capable of directing their 
own destiny. 

But by whom will this transformation be realized? 

"The wise educators of humanity sprung from the privileged classes, 
that is to say, individuals freed from the material pressure weighing 
on the mind of the masses— they will do it!" That was the answer 
of the social Utopians, 

"A revolutionary minority composed, of men whom a more or less 
accidental combination of circumstances has enabled to save their brains 
and will from this pressure, persons who constitute in our society an 
exception that proves the rule — they will do it!" This was the answer 
of revolutionary communists like Weitling and Blanqui, and the con- 
ception of their epigones of the anarcho-syndicalist type, as Pouget and 
the late Gustave Herve. 

A benevolent dictatorship for some, a violent dictatorship for the 
others, such is the deus ex machina that was going to throw up a bridge 
between the social environment producing the mental enslavement of 
the masses and the social environment that would render possible their 
full development as human beings.* 

"Man's character," wrote Robert Owen, "is formed by environ- 

* Thus Lenin in his speech on Economic Construction, March 31, 1920: 

"On. the 29th of April, 1918 the Central Executive Committee accepted a 
resolution expressing full approval of the 'basic ideas given in this report and 
instructed the praesidium to draft, in the form of theses, these basic prob- 
lems of the Soviet Power. Now we are repeating what was approved by 
the Central Executive Committee two years ago in an official resolution I 
Now we are drawn back to a question that was decided long ago, in a man- 
ner approved of and made clear by the Central Executive Coni-mittee— 
namely, tha* the Soviet Socialist Democracy is in no way inconsistent with 
the rule and dictatorship of one person; that ike will of a class is at times 
best realised by a dictator, who sometimes will accomplish more by himself 
and is frequently more needed. At any rate, the principal relation toward 
one person rule was not only explained a long time ago but was also decided 
by the Central Executive Committee ..." (Collected Works, volume 17, 
page 89, 1st Russian edition,) — Translator. 


ment and education . . . The problem flowing from this is the follow- 
ing: to transform these two factors of character in such a manner that 
man will become virtuous," 2 (The New Conception of Society). 

According to Owen, the task of operating this transformation fell 
to the legislators, to the philanthropists, to the pedagogues. 

Whether pacifist or revolutionary, the Utopians were only half 
materialist. They understood only in a metaphysical manner the thesis 
according to which human psychology depends on the material environ^ 
ment. They were hardly aware of the dynamics of the social process. 
Their materialism was not dialectical. 

The state of correlation binding a given aspect of the social conscious- 
ness to a given aspect of social life, which is the determining cause of 
the former, presented itself in the minds of those people as something 
congealed, as something immovable. That is why they stopped being 
materialists and became idealists of the first water as soon as they tried 
to find out how it was necessary to act practically in order to modify 
the social milieu and render possible the regeneration of the masses. 
Quite a good while ago, in his theses on Feuerbach, Marx observed: 
"The materialist doctrine that men are the products of conditions 
and education, different men therefore the products of other conditions 
and changed education, forgets that circumstances may be altered by 
men and that the educator has himself to be educated. This doctrine 
leads inevitably to the ideas of a society composed of two distinct por- 
tions, one of which is elevated above society (Robert Owen for ex- 

Applied to the class struggle of the propertyless, this means the fol- 
lowing. Impelled by the same "circumstances" of capitalist society 
that determine their character as an enslaved class, the workers enter 
into a struggle against the society that enslaves them. The process of 
this struggle modifies the social "circumstances." It modifies the 
environment in which the working class moves. This way the work- 
ing class modifies its own character. From a class reflecting passively 
the mental servitude to which they are subjected, the propertyless be- 
come a class which frees itself actively from all enslavement, including 
that of the mind* 

This process is not at all rectilinear. It does not take in homogene- 
ously all the layers of the proletariats, nor all phases of their conscious- 
ness. It will be far from attaining its full development when the 
combination of historic circumstances permits, or obliges, the working 
class to tear from the hands of the bourgeoisie the apparatus of political 
power. The workers are condemned to penetrate into the realm of 
socialism when they still bear a good share of those "vices of the op- 
pressed," the yoke which Lassalle had so eloquently urged them to 
throw off. As a result of the struggle against capitalism, the prole- 

2 The quotation is translated from Martov. 


tanat modifies the material milieu surrounding it. It modifies this 
way its own character and emancipates itself culturally. Exercising 
its conquered power, the proletariat frees itself completely from the 
intellectual influence of the old society — in the degree that it realizes 
a radical transformation of the material milieu, which in the last place 
determines its character. 

But only "finally!" Only at the end of a long, painful, contradictory 
process, which is analogous to all preceding historic processes in this 
respect. The social creation assumes its form on the anvil of necessity, 
under the imperious pressure of immediate needs. 

The conscious will of the revolutionary vanguard can appreciably 
accelerate and facilitate this process. It can never avoid it. 

Some people presume that if a compact revolutionary minority, ani- 
mated by the desire to establish socialism, seizes the machinery of gov- 
ernment, and concentrates in its own hands the means of production 
and distribution and the control of the organization of the masses and 
their education, 3 it may— in pursuance of its socialist ideal— create an 
environment in which the popular mind will little by little be purged 
of its old heritage and filled with a new content. Only then, it is 
averred, can the people stand erect and move by their own strength on 
the road to socialism. 

If this utopia could be followed to the end, it would lead to a 
diametrically opposite result, though we considered it only from the 
angle of^ Marx's observation that the "educator has himself to be 
educated," For the practice of such a, dictatorship, and the relations 
established between the dictatorial minority and the mass, "educate" 
the dictators, who may be everything we want them to be but 
cannot direct social evolution toward the construction of a new society. 
We do not need to demonstrate that such an education can only corrupt 
the masses, that it can only debase them. 

The proletarian class considered as a whole — we are using the word 
in its broadest sense, including intellectual workers whose collabora- 
tion in the direction of the State and the administration of the social 
economy is indispensable till the contrary becomes true — is the only 
possible builder of the new society, and it must consequently be the 
only successor to the classes that formerly dominated the functions of 
government. The propertyless will also find it indispensable to benefit 
by the active aid, or at least, friendly neutrality of the non-proletarian 
producers, who are still numerous in the city and countryside. This 
flows from the nature of the social overturn that is the historic mission 
of the proletariat. This change must manifest itself in every part of 
the life of society. The proletariat will be able to take in hand the 

s The suppression of the entire press outside of the official has its 
partisans and has even been partially tried in Europe under the euphonious 
label of "socialization of the press." 


huge heritage of capitalism, without dilapidating it — it will be able 
to set in motion the gigantic productive forces of capitalism so that the 
result is real social equality based on the increase of the general well- 
being — only by giving proof of the maximum of moral energy it can 
generate. That, we repeat, is an unavoidable condition, which is, in 
its turn, subordinated to the greatest possible development of organized 
initiative on the part of all the elements composing the working class. 
The latter presupposes an atmosphere that is absolutely incompatible 
with the dictatorship of a minority or with the permanent satellites of 
such a dictatorship: terror and bureaucracy. 

In the course of the free construction of the new society, the prole- 
tariat will reeducate itself and eliminate from its character those traits 
that are in contradiction with the great problems it will have to solve. 
This will be true about the working class taken as a whole as well as 
about each of its component elements. It is evident that the duration 
of this process will vary for each of these elements. To remain on the 
firm ground of political reality, the political action of the socialists will 
have to reckon with this fact. It will have to take into account the 
slow pace of the necessarily progressive adaptation of the entire class to 
its new milieu. Every attempt at forcing this process artificially is 
certain to yield the opposite results. Many compromises will be found 
absolutely inevitable in order to suit the march of history to the intel- 
lectual level attained by the different elements within the working 
class at the moment of the fall of capitalism. 

But the final goal justifies only those compromises that do not lead 
to results that are in opposition to this goal. Only those compromises 
are justified which do not bar the road to the goal. For that reason, 
it is impossible to consider too pronounced compromises made either 
with the destructive tendency or with the conservative inertia that 
are typical of one or another section of the working class, 

A compromise made with the enemy class is nearly always fatal to 
the revolution. A compromise that guarantees the unity of the class 
in its struggle against the enemy can only advance the revolution — in 
the sense that it opens up wide possibilities for the spontaneous, direct 
action of the mass. 

True, this result will be obtained at the price of a movement that is 
slower, more sinuous, than the straight line which a minority dictator- 
ship can trace in the task of revolution. But here as in mechanics what 
is lost in distance is made up in speed. The gain is made here by over- 
coming rapidly the inner psychological obstacles that arise in the way 
of the revolutionary class and hamper it in its attempt to achieve its 
aims. On the other hand, the straight line, preferred by the doctrin- 
aires of the violent revolution because it is shorter, leads in practice to 
the maximum of psychological resistance and that way to the minimum 
creative yield of the social revolution. 





THE VERY partisans of the "p ure soviet system'* (an expression cur- 
rent in Germany) do not themselves realize, as a rule, that the cause 
which is fundamentally served by the methods of contemporary Bol- 
shevism is the organization of a minority dictatorship. On the con- 
trary, they usually begin by looking around sincerely for political instru- 
ments that might best express the genuine will of the majority. They 
arrive at "sovietism" only after repudiating the instrument of universal 
suffrage — because it does not seem to furnish the solution they are 

Psychologically the most characteristic thing about the rush of the 
"extreme leftists" toward "sovietism" is their desire to jump over the 
historic inertia of the masses. Dominating their logic, however, is the 
idea that Soviets constitute a new, "finally discovered," political mode. 
This, they say, is the specific instrument of the class rule of the prole- 
tariat, just as the democratic republic is according to them the specific 
instrument of the rule of the bourgeoisie. 

The idea that the working class can only come to power by using 
social forms that are absolutely different, even in principle, from those 
assumed by the power of the bourgeoisie, has existed since the dawn 
of the Revolutionary labor movement. We find it, for example, in the 
fearless propaganda of the immediate predecessors of the Chartist move- 
ment r the construction worker James Morrisson and his friend, the 
weaver James Smith. At the time when the advanced workers of the 
period were only beginning to conceive the idea that there was the 
need of seizing political power and to win universal suffrage in order 
to accomplish the latter, Smith was already writing in his journal, The 
Crisis, Jpril 12, 1834: 

". . . We shall have a real House of Commons. We have never yet 
had a House of Commons. The only House of Commons is a House 
of Trades, and that is only beginning to be formed. We shall have 
a new set of boroughs when the unions are organised : every trade shall 
be a borough, and every trade shall have a council of representatives 
to conduct its affairs. Our present commoners know nothing of the 
interests of the people, and care not for them . . . The character of the 
Reformed Parliament is now blasted, and like a character of a woman 


when lost, is not easily recovered. It will be replaced with a House 
of Trades." i 

Morrison wrote in his publication, The Pioneer, May 31, 1834; 

"The growing power and growing intelligence of the trade unions, 
when properly managed, will draw into its vortex all the commercial 
interests of the country, and, in so doing, it will become, by its own 
self-acquired importance, a most influential, we might almost say 
dictatorial, part of the body politic. When this happens, we have gained 
all that we want: we have gained universal suffrage, for if every mem- 
ber of the union be a constituent, and the Union itself becoming a vital 
member of the State, it instantly erects itself into a House of Trades 
which must supply the place of the present House of Commons, and 
direct industrial affairs of the country, according to the will of the 
trades that compose the associations of industry , . , With us, universal 
suffrage will begin in our lodges, extend to the general union, embrace 
the management of trade, and finally swallow up the political power," fr 

Substitute Soviet for Union, executive committee ("ispolkorn") for 
council of representatives, Soviet Congress for House of Trades, and 
you have a draft of the "Soviet system" established on the basis of 
productive cells. 

In his polemic against the trade-union conception of the dictatorship 
of the proletariat, B. O'Brien, who later headed the Chartists, wrote: 

"■ . . Universal suffrage does not signify meddling with politics, but 
the rule of the people in the State and municipality, a Government 
therefore in favor of the working man." 6 

Basing itself largely on the experience of the revolutionary labor 
movement in England, the 1848 communism — scientific socialism — of 
Marx and Engels, identified the problem of the conquest of State power 
by the proletariat with that of the organization of a rational democracy. 

The Communist Manifesto declared: "We have already seen that 
the first step in the working-class revolution is raising the proletariat 
to the position of a ruling class, the conquest of democracy." 

According to Lenin the Manifesto poses the question of the State 
"still extremely in the abstract and employing ideas and expressions 
that are quite general" (State and Revolution, page 29, Russian ed.). 
The problem of the conquest of State power is presented more con- 
cretely in The 18th Brumaire. Its concretecization is completed in 
Civil War in France, written after the experience of the Paris Com- 
mune. Lenin is of the opinion that, in the course of this development, 

* Quoted by M. Beer in his History of British Socialism, page 265 of 

German ed, 

5 M. Beer, page 266, 

fl M., Beer, page 266. From Poor man's Guardian, Dec. 7 and 21, 1833, 


Marx has been led precisely to that conception of the dictatorship of 
the proletariat which forms today the basis of Bolshevism. 

In 1852, in Eighteenth Brumaire, Marx wrote: 

"Every previous revolution has brought the machinery of State to 
a greater perfection instead of breaking it up." 

On the 12th of April 1871, in a letter to Kugelmann, he formulated 
his viewpoint on the problem of revolution as follows: 

"If you look at the last chapter of my Eighteenth Brumaire, you 
will see that I declare the next attempt of the French Revolution to 
be not merely to hand over, from one set to another, the bureaucratic 
and military machine, as was the case up to now, but to shatter it. 
That is precisely the preliminary condition of any real people's revolu- 
tion on the Continent. It is exactly this that constitutes the attempt 
of our heroic Parisian comrades." 

Tn this spirit, Marx declared (Civil War in France) that the Com- 
mune was: "a republic that was not merely to suppress the monarchic 
form of class domination but the class State itself." 

What was then the Commune ? 

It was an attempt to bring about the effective and rational establish- 
ment of a democratic State by destroying the military and bureaucratic 
State apparatus. It was an attempt to establish a State based entirely 
on the power of the people. 

As long as he speaks of the destruction of the bureaucracy, the police 
and permanent army, as long as he speaks of the .electiveness and recall 
of all officials, of the broadest autonomy possible in local administra- 
tion, of the centralization of all power in the hands of the peoples 
representatives (thus doing away with the gap between the legislative 
and executive departments of the government, and replacing the "talk- 
ing" parliament with a "working institution") ; as long as he speaks of 
all of this in his defence of the Commune, Marx remains faithful to 
the conception of the social revolution he presented in the Communist 
Manifesto, in which the dictatorship of the proletariat is identified 
with the "conquest of democracy." He therefore remains quite logical 
with himself when in his letter to Kugelmann, quoted above, he stresses 
that the "destruction of the bureaucratic and military machine" is the 
"preliminary condition of any real people's revolution on the Continent" 
(our emphasis.) 

On this point, it is interesting to compare the experience gathered by 
Marx and Engels from the events of 1848 with the conclusions drawn 
by Hertzen. In his Letters from France and Italy, Hertzen wrote: 

"When universal suffrage is found alongside the monarchic organi- 
zation of the State, when it is found alongside that absurd separation 
of power so glorified by the partisans of constitutional forms, when it 
is found alongside a religious conception of representation, alongside 
a police centralization of the entire State in the hands of a cabinet — 


then universal suffrage is an optical illusion and has about as much value 
as the equality preached by Christianity. It is not enough to assemble 
once a year, elect a deputy, and then return home to resume the passive 
role of administered subjects-. The entire social hierarchy should be 
based on universal suffrage. The local community should elect its 
government and the department (province) its own. All proconsuls, 
made sacred by the mystery of ministerial unction, ought to be done 
away with. Only then will the people be able to exercise effectively 
all their rights and proceed intelligently with the election of their 
representatives to a central parliament." The bourgeois republicans, 
quite on the contrary, "wanted to maintain the cities and municipalities 
in complete dependence on the executive power and applied the demo- 
cratic idea of universal suffrage to only one civic act/' (Hertzen, 
Works, Pavlenkov ed., vol. 5, pp. 122-123). 

In other words, Hertzen, like Marx, denounced the pseudo-demo- 
cratic bourgeois republic in the name of a republic that was genuinely 
democratic. And like Hertzen, Marx rose against universal suffrage 
to the extent that it was no more than a deceptive appendix attached 
to the "monarchic organization of the State," a legacy of the past. He 
opposed it because he was for a State organization built from top to 
bottom on universal suffrage and the sovereignty of the people. 

Commenting on Marx's idea, Lenin observes (State and Revolution, 
page 367, Russian ed.) : 

"This could be conceived in 187 1, when England was still the pat- 
tern of a purely capitalist country, without a military machine and, in 
a large measure, without a bureaucracy. That is why Marx excluded 
England, where a revolution, even a people's revolution could be 
imagined, and was then possible, without the preliminary condition of 
the destruction of the State machine since the latter was available, all 
ready, for it/* 

Unfortunately, Lenin hurries to pass over this point without reflect- 
ing on all the questions posed for us by Marx's restrictions. 

According to Lenin, Marx admitted a situation in which the peo- 
ple's revolution would not need to shatter the available ready State 
machinery. This was the case when the State machinery did not have 
the military and bureaucratic character typical of the Continent and 
could therefore be utilized by a real people's revolution. The existence, 
within the framework of capitalism and in spite of the latter, of a 
democratic apparatus of self -administration, which the military and 
bureaucratic machine had not succeeded in crushing, was evidently ex- 
ceptional. In that case, according to Marx, the people's revolution 
should simply take possession of that apparatus and perfect it, thus 
realizing the State form that the revolution could best use for its crea- 
tive purposes. 


It is not for nothing that Marx and Engels admitted theoretically 
the possibility of a pacific socialist revolution in England. This theo- 
retic possibility rested precisely on the democratic character, capable of 
being perfected, which the British State presented in their day. 

Much water has flowed under the bridges since then. In England, 
as in the United States, imperialism has forged the "military and 
bureaucratic State machine" the absence of which had constituted, as 
a general feature, the difference between the political evolution of the 
Anglo-Saxon countries and the general type of capitalist State. At 
the present time, it is permissible to doubt if this feature has been 
preserved even in the; youngest Anglo-Saxon republics : Australia 
and New Zealand. "Today," remarks Lenin with justification, "both 
in England and in America the 'preliminary condition of any real 
people's revolution' is the break-up, the shattering of the 'available ready 
machinery of the State.' " * 

The theoretic possibility has not revealed itself in reality. But the 
sole fact that he admitted such a possibility shows us clearly Marx's 
opinion, leaving no room for arbitrary interpretation. What Marx 
designated as the "destruction of the State machine" in Eighteenth 
Brumaire and in his letter to Kugelmann was the destruction of the 
military and bureaucratic apparatus that the bourgeois democracy had 
inherited from the monarchy and perfected in the process of consolidat- 
ing the rule of the bourgeois class. There is nothing in Marx s 
reasoning that even suggests the destruction of the State organization as 
such and the replacement of the State during the revolutionary period, 
that is during the dictatorship of the proletariat, with a social bond 
formed on a principle opposed to that of the State. Marx and Engels 
foresaw such a substitution only at the end of a process of "a progres- 
sive withering away" of the State and all the functions of social coer- 
cion. They foresaw this atrophy of the State and the functions of 
social coercion to be the result of the prolonged existence c-I the socialist 

It is not for any idle reason that Engels wrote in 1891, in his 
preface to Civil War in France: 

* It is as if Martov, writing in Russia, immediately after the World War, 
actually thought that by 1919 all democratic State machinery, developed 
up to then in- England, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and other 
points west, had been replaced with military-bureaucratic institutions. 
Something as similar is taken as an uncontradictable fact by the well-read 
and right-thinking Soviet citizen of 1938. In Martov's case, the error is 
not accounted for altogether by the post-War blockade of Russia, We 
have already noted that no more than his compatriot Lenin did Martov — 
also a product of the Russian revolutionary movement — see clearly the 
relation between capitalism and popular, ""democratic/' political mass support. 
Yet how much insight into what is really the same problem is shown by 
him in the immediately preceding Metaphysical Materialism and Dialectical 
Materialism.— 'Translator. 


"In reality, the State is nothing more than a machine for the op- 
pression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic repub- 
lic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the 
proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy whose worse 
sides the proletariat, just like the Commune, will have at the earliest 
possible moment to lop off, until such time as a new generation, reared 
under new and free social conditions, will be able to throw on the 
scrap-heap all the useless lumber of the State," 

Isn't this clear enough? The proletariat lops off "the worst sides" 
of the democratic State (for example: the police, permanent army, the 
bureaucracy as an independent entity, exaggerated centralization, etc.) 
But it does not suppress the democratic State as such. On the con- 
trary, it creates the democratic State in order to have it replace the 
"military and bureaucratic State," which must be shattered. 

"If there is anything about which there can be no doubt it is that 
our party and the working class can only gain supremacy under a polit- 
ical regime like the democratic republic. The latter is, indeed, the 
specific form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, as has been demon- 
strated by the French revolution. ' J 

That is how Engels expresses himself in his critique of the draft of 
the Erfurt program. He does not speak there of a "soviet" republic 
(the term was, of course, unknown), nor of a commune-republic, in 
contrast to the "State," Neither does he speak of the "trade-union 
republic" imagined by Smith and Morrisson and by the French syndi- 
calists. Clearly and explicitly, Engels speaks of the democratic re- 
public, that is, of a State democratized from top to bottom, "an evil 
inherited by the proletariat." 

This is stated so clearly, so explicitly, that when Lenin quotes these 
words, he finds it necessary to obscure their meaning. 

"Engels," he says, "repeats here in a particularly emphatic form the 
fundamental idea which, like a red thread, runs throughout all Marx's 
work, viz., that the Democratic Republic comes nearest 7 the dictator- 
ship of the proletariat. For such a republic, without in the least setting 
aside the domination of capital, and, therefore, the oppression of the 
masses and the class struggle, inevitably leads to such an extension, 
intensification and development of that struggle that, as soon as the 
chance arises for satisfying the fundamental interests of the oppressed 
masses, this chance is realized inevitably and solely in the form of the 
dictatorship of the proletariat, of the guidance of these masses by the 

However, Engels does not speak of a political form that "comes 
nearest the dictatorship," as is interpreted by Lenin in his commentaries. 

T The version found in one English edition is "the nearest jumping-board 
to." — Translator. 
& State and Revolution, page 66, Chapter IV. 


He speaks of the only "specific" political form in which the dictatorship 
can be realized. According to Engels, the dictatorship is forged in the 
democratic republic. Lenin, on the other hand, sees democracy merely 
as the means of sharpening the class struggle, thus confronting the prole- 
tariat with the problem of the dictatorship. For Lenin, the democratic 
republic finds its conclusion in the dictatorship of the proletariat, giv- 
ing birth to the latter but destroying itself in the delivery. Engels, on 
the contrary, is of the opinion that when the proletariat has gained 
supremacy in the democratic republic and thus realized its dictatorship, 
within the democratic republic, it will consolidate the latter by that 
very act and invest it, for the first time, with a character that is gen- 
uinely, fundamentally and completely democratic- That is why, in 
1848, Engels and Marx identified the act of "raising the proletariat 
to a ruling class" with "the conquest of democracy." That is why in 
The Civil War, Marx hailed, in the experience of the Commune, 
the total triumph of the principles of people's power; universal fran- 
chise, electiveness and recall of all officials. That is why in 1891, in 
his preface to The Civil War, Engels wrote again : 

"Against this transformation of the State and the organs of the State 
from the servants of society into masters of society — a process which 
had been inevitable in all previous States — the Commune made use 
of two infallible expedients. In the first place, it confided all adminis- 
trative, judicial and educational functions to men chosen by universal 
suffrage, and it reserved to itself the right of recalling them at any 
time, upon the decision of their electors. In the second place, all offi- 
cials, high or low, were paid only by wages not surpassing the wages 
received by other categories of workers," 

Thus, universal suffrage is an "infallible expedient" against the trans- 
formation of the State "from a servant of society into its master.'* Thus, 
only the State conquered by the proletariat under the form of a basically 
democratic republic can be a real "servant of society." 

Is it not plain that when he speaks this way and identifies, at the 
same time, suck a democratic republic with the dictatorship of the prole- 
tariat, Engels is not employing the latter term to indicate a form of 
government but to designate the social structure of the State power? 
It was exactly this that is stressed by Kautsky in his Dictatorship of 
the Proletariat when he says that for Marx such a dictatorship was not 
a question "of a form of government but of its nature." An attempt 
at any other interpretation leads perforce to the appearance of a flag- 
rant contradiction between Marx's affirmation that the Paris Com- 
mune was an incarnation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the 
emphasis he laid on the total democracy established by the Paris Com- 

Lenin's text demonstrates that when he really permitted himself to 
make contact with the viewpoint of the creators of scientific socialism, 


he rose above a simplist conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat, 
and did not then reduce it to dictatorial forms of organization of power 
and did not then fasten to the term the meaning of a definite "political 
structure.'' In the quotation from State and Revolution reproduced 
above, Lenin puts an equals sign between ''dictatorship of the prole- 
tariat" and "the guidance of these masses by the proletariat." The 
equation corresponds entirely to the conception held by Marx and 
Engels. It is exactly this way that Marx represented the dictatorship 
of the proletariat under the Paris Commune when he wrote "this was 
the first revolution in which the working class was openly acknowl- 
edged as the only class capable of social initiative, even by the great 
bulk of the Parisian middle-class — shop-keepers, tradesmen, merchants 
— the wealthy capitalists alone excepted.*' The voluntary acceptance 
by the great population of the hegemony of the working class engaged 
in the struggle against capitalism, forms the essential basis of the "polit- 
ical structure" that is called "dictatorship of the proletariat." Similarly, 
the voluntary acceptance by the popular masses of the hegemony of the 
bourgeoisie permits us to designate the political structure existing in 
France, England and the United States as the "dictatorship of the 
bourgeoisie.'* This dictatorship is not done away with when the bour- 
geoisie finds it worth while to offer to the peasants and the petty bour- 
geois, whom it directs, the appearance of sovereignty, by granting them 
universal suffrage. Similarly, the dictatorship of the proletariat that 
Marx and Engels had in mind can only be realized on the basis of the 
sovereignty of all the people and, therefore, only on the basis of the 
widest possible application of universal suffrage. 6 

Therefore, when we consider the opinions of Marx and Engels on 
the dictatorship of the proletariat, on the democratic republic and on 
the "State that is an evil," we are obliged to arrive at the following 
conclusion : 

u In 1903, as is known, George Pldchanov declared, that when the revolu- 
tionary proletariat lias rea-lized its dictatorship, it may find it necessary 
to deprive the bourgeoisie of all political rights (including the right to vote). 
However, to Plekhanov this was one of the possibilities, one of the contin~ 
gencies, of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In my pamphlet 'The Struggle 
Against Martial Lazv within the Social-Democratic Labor Party of Russia, 
I tried to interpret -PlcUhanov's words as presenting au example admissible only 
in logical abstraction and therefore used by him to illustrate the thesis: "The 
safety of the revolution is the supreme law and takes precedence over any 
other consideration." I expressed the belief that Plekhanov himself probably 
did not presume that, after they had acquired power, the proletariat of countries 
that were economically ripe for socialism could find themselves in a situation 
where it was not possible for them to support themselves on the willing 
acceptance of their direction by the people but, oti the contrary, had to deny 
to the bourgeois minority, hy force, the exercise of political rights. In a 
private conversation with me, Plekhanov objected to my putting such an 
interpretation on his words. I understood then that his conception of the 
dictatorship of the proletariat was not free of a certain kinship with the 
Jacobin dictatorship by a revolutionary minority, 


To Marx and Engels, the problem of the taking of political power 
by the proletariat is bound up with the destruction of the bureaucratic- 
military machine, which rules the bourgeois State in spite of the exist- 
ence of democratic parliamentarism. 

To Marx and Engels, the problem of the dictatorship of the prole- 
tariat is bound to the establishment of a State based on sincere and 
total democracy, on universal suffrage, on the widest local self-adminis- 
tration and has, as its corollary, the existence of the effective hegemony 
of the proletariat over the majority of the population. 

In that regard, Marx and Engels continue and extend the political 
tradition of the Mountain of 1 793 and the Chartists of the O'Brien School. 

It is true, however, that it is possible to discover in the works of 
Marx and Engels the traces of other ideas. These appear to offer 
ground to theses according to which the forms, and even instittttions t 
that may embody the political power of the proletariat, take on an 
essentially new character, opposed in principle to the forms and institu- 
tions that embody the political power of the bourgeoisie, and opposed 
in principle to the State as such. 

These ideas belong to a special cycle and merit a separate study. We 
shall deal with them in the following chapter, 


WHEN HE considered the Commune in his writings, Marx could 
not merely present his views on the dictatorship of the proletariat. 
The uprising had many enemies. The first thing to be done was to 
defend the Commune against the calumny of its enemies. It was nat- 
ural for this circumstance to influence Marx's manner of dealing with 
the slogans and ideas of the movement that produced the events of 
March 1871. 

Because the revolutionary explosion which led to the seizure of Paris 
by the armed people on March 18, 1871 was the expression of a fierce 
class struggle, it also provoked a conflict between the democratic- 
republican population of the large city and the conservative population 
of the provinces, especially that of the rural districts. 

During the preceding two decades, the "backward" peasantry of 
France helped to crush revolutionary and republican Paris by support- 
ing the extreme bureaucratic centralism of the Second Empire. As a 
result of this, the revolt of the Parisian democracy against the national 
representatives sitting at Versailles, appeared at first as a struggle for 
municipal autonomy™ 

This circumstance gained for the Commune the sympathy of many 

10 "The 18th of March took the aspect of a rebellion of Paris against pro- 
vincial oppression," writes Paul Louis, the historian of French socialism. 
Histoire du socialisms fnmgais, 2nd ed., page 308. 


bourgeois radicals, people who were for administrative decentraliza- 
tion and wide local autonomy. For some time, this aspect of the Paris 
Commune of 1871 hid the real nature and historic meaning of their 
movement even from the most outstanding Communards. 

In his book of recollections of the International, the anarchist Guil- 
laume tells how immediately after the outbreak of the revolt, the Jura 
Federation sent their delegate Jacquault to Paris, in order to learn 
what would be the best way of helping the uprising, which the Juras- 
sians considered to be the beginning of a universal social revolution. 
Great was the surprise of the men of Jura when their delegate returned 
with a report of the total lack of understanding shown by E. Varlin, 
the most influential of the "left" militants among the French Interna- 
tionalists. According to Varlin, it appears, the uprising had a purely 
local aim— the conquest of municipal liberties- for Paris. According 
to Varlin, the conquest of these liberties was not expected to have any 
social and revolutionary repercussions in the rest of Europe. {Ulnier- 
nationalej Souvenirs, vol, II, page 133.) 

It is understood that this could have been said only during the first 
days of the Commune, Soon the historic scope of their revolution 
started to become visible to the Paris proletariat. It is nevertheless 
true that the Commune never completely freed itself from the bour- 
geois conceptions that wanted to limit its aims to questions of municipal 

It is this lack of ideological clarity in the Communards' minds that 
Marx later attacked in a letter to Kugelmann. In this letter, Marx 
mentions a demonstration staged against him by the Communard 
refugees in London, and takes the occasion to recall that it was he, 
however, who had "saved the honor" of the revolution of 1871. Marx 
"saved the honor" of the Commune by revealing its historic meaning, 
a meaning that the Communard combatants themselves were unaware of. 

But the Commune was influenced by other ideologies besides that of 
bourgeois radicalism. It also bore the imprint of Anarchist Proud- 
honism and Hebertian Blanquism, the two tendencies that fused in the 
general French working class movement. The representatives of these 
currents of thought sought in the Paris Commune a content that was 
diametrically opposed to that which the democratic bourgeoisie wanted 
to put into it. The semblance of identity between the social revolu- 
tionary and the bourgeois radical viewpoints was only due to the fact 
that both took a common stand against the bureaucratic and centraliz- 
ing leanings of the State apparatus left by the Second Empire. 

During the last few years before the Commune, the French Blan- 
quists managed to make some contact with the working people of their 
country. They partially passed beyond the bourgeois Jacobinism under 
whose influence (and the influence of the Baboeuf school) they grew 
up, While they did not cease to draw their political inspiration from 


the heritage of the 18th century revolution, the most active represen- 
tatives of Blanquism became more circumspect in regard to the Jacobin 
forms of democracy and revolutionary dictatorship. They tried to find 
for the proletarian movement of their time an ideological support in 
the revolutionary tradition of the "Hebertists," the extreme Left of 
the sans-culotie of the French Revolution. 

In 1793-1794, Hebert and his partisans found support among the 
real sans-culotte of the Parisian faubourgs, whose vague social and 
revolutionary hopes they tried to interpret* By means of this support, 
the Hebertists strove to turn the Paris Commune into an instrument 
by which they might exert pressure on the central government. 
Making use of the direct help of the armed populace, the Hebertists 
wanted to transform the Paris Commune of 1794 into a center 
possessing total revolutionary power. As long as Robespierre had 
not as yet reduced it to the level of a subordinate administrative 
mechanism (and he did that by crushing the Hebertists and sending 
their chiefs to the guillotine), the Commune of 1794 really represented 
the active revolutionary elements among the Parisian sans-culotte, by 
whom it had been chosen. Up to then, it incarnated the instinctive 
desire of the masses of the city poor to impose their dictatorship on 
rural and provincial France with its backward political conceptions. 11 

The Commune, as the instrument of the revolutionary will and the 
direct revolutionary action of the propertyless masses, contrasted to 
the democratic State, became the political ideal of the young Blanquists 
during the latter years of the Second Empire. 12 

11 It is to Hubert's Commune of Paris and that of Lyon that belongs the 
credit of initiating the extreme acts of political terror (the September execu- 
tions, the expulsion of the Girondins from the Convention) and the nfeasures 
of "consumers' communism" by which the cities, deprived of resources, at- 
tempted to force the petty bourgeoisie of the villages and the outlying provinces 

to provide them with foodstuffs. It is in the Communes of Paris and 
Lyon where the expeditions of the "army of provisioning" started. There 
were organized the "committees of poor" for the purpose of appropriating 
grain from the contemporary "kul,acks," whom the jargon of the period called 
"aristocrats" The two Communes of the French Revolution imposed con- 
tributions on the bourgeois and "took charge" of the stocks of commodities 
produced by industry during the preceding years (especially at Lyon). From 
these organizations emanated the requisition of residences, the forcible at- 
tempts to lodge the poor in houses considered too large for their occupants, 
and other equaUtarian measures. If in their quest for historic analogies, 
Lenin, Trotsky and Radek had shown a greater knowledge of the past, they 
would not have tried to tie the genealogy of the Soviets to the Commune of 
1871 but to the Paris Commune of 1793-94, which was a center of revolutionary 
energy and power very similar to the institution of their own time. 

12 In his letter to Marx, July 6, 1869, {Correspondence, vol. IV, page 175"), 
Engels mentions Tri don's pamphlet, Les Hdbertistes, in which the author 
presents the arguments of that wing of Blanquism: 

"It is ridiculous to suppose that the dictatorship of Paris over France — 
the rock on which the first revolution was wrecked — can simply be reproduced 
and meet with a different fate." 


In the course of the Revolution of March 18, another political trend, 
that of the Anarcho-Proudhonians, became visible. It moved alongside 
the "Hebertian" current, at times mingling with it. 

Both tendencies saw in the "commune" a lever of revolution. But 
to the Proudhonians, the commune did not appear to be a political, and 
specifically revolutionary, organization that, pitted against the just as 
political, and more or less democratic, State, was to obtain the effective 
submission of the latter by means of the dictatorship of Paris over 
France, They opposed every form of the State as an "artificial" — that 
is ? political — grouping, established on the basis of the subordination of 
the citizenry to an apparatus, even under the fallacious guise of popu- 
lar representation. The "commune" they had in mind was the "nat- 
ural" social organization of producers. 

According to their outlook, the commune was not merely to rise 
above the State, or subject the latter to its dictatorship. It was also to 
separate itself from the State, and invite all the 36,000 communes 
(cities and villages) of France to proceed the same way, thus decom- 
posing the State and substituting for it a free federation of communes. 

"What does Paris want?" asked La Commune on April 19, and it 
answered its own question as follows: 

"The extension of the absolute autonomy of the Commune to all the 
localities of France, assuring to each its rights, to every Frenchmen 
the complete exercise of his faculties and aptitudes as a human being, 
citizen and worker. 

"The autonomy of the Commune will be limited to the right of equal 
autonomy of all the communes participating in the pact. Such an as- 
sociation will assure French unity/* 

Logically flowing from this stand was a federalist program in the 
Proudhon-Bakuninist spirit, recognizing a voluntary and elastic pact 
as the only tie between the communes and excluding the complicated 
apparatus of a general State administration. The Communards were 
quite pleased when they were nicknamed "Federalists." 

"On the 1 8th of March," wrote the Bakuninist Arthur Arnoult, a 
member of the Commune {Popular History of the Commune, page 
2 43)) "the people declared that it was necessary to escape the vicious 
circle, that it was necessary to destroy the evil in the egg that the thing 
to be done was not merely to change masters, but no longer to have 
any* In a miraculous recognition of the truth, seeking to reach the 
goal by all the roads leading to it, the people proclaimed the autonomy 
of the Commune and a federation of communes. 

". . . For the first time, we were to interpret the real rules, the just 
and normal laws, which assure the true independence of the individual 
and the communal or corporative group, and to effect a bond between 
the various homogeneous groupings, so that they might enjoy, at the 
same time, union, in which there is strength, . , , and autonomy, which 


is indispensable to . , , the infinite development of all the original capaci- 
ties and qualities of production and progress," 

This communal federalism appeared to the Anarcho-Proudhonians 
to be the organization in which the economic relation of the producers 
would rind their direct expression, 

"Each autonomous grouping," continues Arnoult, "communal or 
corporative, depending on circumstances, will have to solve, within its 
own framework, the social question, that is, the problem of property, 
the relation between labor and capital, etc. 

Note the restriction; "communal or corporative, depending on cir- 
cumstances," The viewpoint of the Federalist-Communard approaches 
quite closely to the outlook which, in 1S33, led Morrisson and Smith 
to their formula of a "House of Trades;" which at the beginning of 
the twentieth century, gave rise to the doctrine of Georges Sorel, Ed- 
mond Berth, Di Leone and others, on the replacement of the "artificial" 
subdivisions existing in the modern State by a federation of "natural" 
corporative (occupational) cells; and which, in 1917-1919, created the 
conception of the "soviet system." 

"Communal groupings," comments Arnoult later, "correspond to 
the ancient political organization. The corporative grouping corre- 
sponds to the social organization," (Our emphasis.) Thus the 
communal organization was to serve as a transition between the State 
and the "corporative" federation. 

This opposition of a "political" organization to a "social" organiza- 
tion presumes that the "destruction of the State machinery" by the 
proletariat will immediately reestablish among the producers "natural" 
relations, which supposedly can only manifest themselves outside 
of political norms and institutions. This contrast underlay the social- 
revolutionary tendencies that were in favor among the Communards. 

"Everything that the socialists stand for, and which they will not be 
able to obtain from a strong and centralized power, no matter how 
democratic, without formidable convulsions, without a ruinous, painful 
and cruel struggle — they will get in an orderly manner, with certainty, 
and without violence, through the simple development of the communal 
principle of free grouping and federation." 

"The solution of these problems can belong only to the corporative 
and productive groupings, united by federative ties, and therefore free 
from governmental and administrative — in other words, political (our 
emphasis) — shackles, which till now have maintained, by oppres- 
sion, the antagonism between capital and labor, subjecting the latter 
to the first." (Ibidem, page 250, Russian translation.) 

That is how the most advanced of the Communards— the combatants 
who were closest to the social-revolutionary class movement of the 
French proletariat of the time — conceived the substance and scope of 
the Commune of 1871* 


Charles Seignobos is obviously wrong when he states (in his note on 
the Commune, found in the History of the 20th Century by Lavisse 
and Rambaud) that the revolutionaries renounced their initial aim— 
the seizure of power in France — and rallied to the cause of the autonom- 
ous commune of Paris, because they found themselves isolated from the 
rest of France and had to pass to the defensive. The latter circumstance 
merely helped the triumph of the Anarcho-Federalist ideas in the de- 
velopment of the Commune, If in the program of the Communards, 
the Hebertist conception of the Commune as the dictator of France 
ceded ground to the Froudhonian idea of an apolitical federation, it is 
because the class character of the struggle between Parts and Versailles 
came out in the open. At that time, the class consciousness of the prole- 
tarians in the small industries of Paris gravitated entirely around the 
ideological opposition of a "natural" union of producers within society 
to the "artificial" unification of the producers within the State, We 
have seen how, at the beginning, Varlin presented the Commune as a 
thing of pure democratic radicalism. In its proclamation of March 23j 
i 87 i, the Paris section of the International declared that — 

"The independence of the Commune is the guarantee of a contract 
whose freely debated clauses will do away with class antagonism 
and assure social equality." This means the following. After the State 
and the power of constraint exercised by the State had collapsed, it 
becomes possible to create a simple "natural" social bond among the 
members of society — a bond based on their economic interdependence. 
And it is precisely the commune that is destined to become the frame- 
work within the limits of which this bond can be realized. 

"We have demanded the emancipation of the workers," continues 
the proclamation, "and the communal delegation is the guarantee of 
this emancipation. For it will provide every citizen with the means 
of defending his rights, of controlling effectively the acts of the man- 
datories charged with the administration of his interests, and of deter- 
mining the progressive application of social reforms," 

It is easily seen that for the Anarchist idea of a commune of labor-— 
that is, a union of producers, as contrasted to a union of citizens within 
the State — the proclamation discreetly substitutes the idea of a political 
commune, the prototype of the modern State, a State microcosm, inside 
of which the representation of interests and the satisfaction of social 
needs become specialized functions, just as (though certainly in a more 
rudimentary form) in the complicated mechanism of the modern State. 
P. Lavrov understood this quite well. He thus notes in his book on the 
Commune (P.. Lavrov: The Paris Commune, page 130, Russ. ed.) : 

"In the course of the 19th century, the unity of communal interests 
disappeared entirely before the increased struggle of classes. As a moral 
entity, the commune did not exist at all (emphasis by Lavrov). In 
each commune (municipality) the irreducible camps of the proletariat 


and the big bourgeoisie faced each other, and the struggle was further 
complicated by the presence of many groups of the small bourgeoisie. 
For a moment, Paris was united by a common emotion: irritation with 
the Bordeaux and Versailles Assemblies. But a passing emotion cannot 
be the basis of a political regime." 

He adds (p. 167) : 

"The effective autonomous basis of the regime, to which the social 
revolution will lead, is not at all the political commune, which admits 
inequality, the promiscuity of the parasites and laborers, etc. It is 
formed rather by a conjointly responsible grouping of workers of every 
kind, rallied to the program of the social revolution" (our emphasis). 

P. Lavrov speaks clearly of a "confusion of two notions; 1 + the au- 
tonomous political commune (municipality), the ideal of the Middle 
Ages, in the struggle for which the bourgeoisie solidified itself and 
grew strong during the first stages of its history; and 2. the autonomous 
commune of the proletariat, which is to appear after the economic vic- 
tory of the proletariat over its enemies, after the establishment, within 
the community, of a social solidarity that is inconceivable as long as 
the economic exploitation of labor by capital continues, and, therefore, 
as long as class hatred within each community is inevitable. When we 
analyze the demands of communal autonomy, as they were generally 
formulated in the course of the struggle in question, we may ask what 
relation could the unquestioned socialists of the Paris Commune see 
between the fundamental problem of socialism — the struggle of labor 
against capital — and the slogan of the 'free commune' which they in- 
scribed on their flag?" 

The paradox indicated by Lavrov consists of the following; 

The very possibility of the process of transforming the capitalist 
order into a socialist order is subordinated to the existence of a social 
form whose mould, we believe, can only be furnished by a more or less 
developed socialist economy. This confusion is typical of the Anarch- 
ists, If it is obvious that the destruction of the basis of private econ- 
omy, the transformation of the whole natural economy into socialist 
economy, will do away with the need of having an organization rise 
above the producer in the shape of the State— the Anarchists deduce 
from this that "the destruction of the State, its "decomposition" into 
cells, into "communes," is a prerequisite condition for the social trans- 
formation itself. There existed in the ideology of the Communards 
a juxtaposition of Froudhonian, Hebertist and bourgeois-autonomist 
notions. So that in their discussions, they passed with the greatest of 
ease from the political "commune"— a territorial unit created by the 
preceding evolution of bourgeois society— -to the "corporative" commune 
-—the free association of workers, which we may imagine will be the 
social grouping when a socialist order has been achieved and the col- 


lective effort of one or two generations will have rendered possible 
"the progressive atrophy of the State" as predicted by Engels. 13 

The interesting exposition made Dunoyer, one of the witnesses who 
appeared before the inquest commission appointed by the Versailles 
National Assembly after the fall of the Commune (quoted by Lavrov 
in his Paris Commune, page 166), suggests the following conclusion; 

The "communalist" ideas, as they were conceived in the minds of 
the workers, merely represented an attempt to transplant into the struc- 
ture of society the forms of their own combat organization, 

"In 1871, the grouping of the workers within the International by 
sections and federations of sections was one of the elements that con- 
tributed toward the spread of the commune idea in Prance/' The In- 
ternational "possessed a ready made organization, where the word 
'Commune' stood for the word 'Section' and the federation of com- 
munes was nothing else than the federation of sections." 

Compare this statement with the citations that we made, in the pre- 
ceding chapter, from the writings of the English trade-unionists of 
1830, whose programs called for the replacement of the parliamentary 
bourgeois State with a "Federation of Trades." Let us recall the ana- 
logous theses of the French syndicalists in the 20th century. And let 
us not forget that in our time, working people take to "the idea of the 
Soviets" after knowing them as combat organizations formed in the 
process of the class struggle at a sharp revolutionary stage. 

In all the "commune" theses we discover one recurring point. It 
consists in spurning the "State" as the instrument of the revolutionary 
transformation of society in the direction of socialism. On the other 
hand, Marxism, as it developed since 1848, is characterized especially 
by the following: 

In accordance with the tradition of Babcuf and Blanqui, Marxism 

lu Wc find today (1918-1919) among the Bolsheviks in Russia, and in 
Western Europe^ the same confusion, with their specific "political form" that 
is supposed to accomplish the social emancipation of the proletariat. Also 
for these people, the question is said to be one of replacing the territorial 
organization of the State with unions of producers. Indeed, at first that was 
described to be the essence of the republic of Soviets. This substitution is 
presented to us, at the same time, 1. as the natural result of the functioning 
of an achieved socialist regime and 2. as the prerequisite condition necessary 
for the realization of the social revolution itself. The confusion overflows 
all boundaries when an attempt is made to remedy it by resorting to the new 
notion of ft "Soviet State." The latter is supposed to incarnate the organized 
violence of the proletariat and, in that capacity, prepare the ground for the 
"withering' away" of all forms of the State. But at, the same time, it is, in 
principle, supposed to be opposed to the State as such. The Paris Communards 
reasoned the same way, They permitted themselves to imagine that the 
Commune-State of 1871 was something whose very principle was the opposite 
of any form of the State, while, in reality, it represented a simplified modern 
democratic State functioning in the manner of the Swiss canton. 


recognizes the State (naturally after its conquest by the proletariat) as 
the principal lever of this transformation. That is why already in the 
6o*s the Anarchists and Proudhonians denounced Marx and Engels as 

What then was the attitude taken by Marx and Engels toward the 
experience provided by the Paris Commune, when the proletariat tried 
for the first time to realize a socialist "dictatorship?" 


THE PROUDHONISTS and the Anarchists were not greatly 
addicted to the study of economics. They had a naive, almost 
simplistic, conception of what would follow the seizure of the means 
of production by the working class. They did not realize that capitalism 
has created, for the concentration of the means of production and 
distribution, so huge an apparatus, that in order to lay hold of these 
means, the working class would require effective administrative ma- 
chinery extending over the entire economic domain that was previously 
ruled by capital. They had no idea of the immenseness and complexity 
of the transformation that would come as a result of a social revolution. 
And only because they did not understand all these things was it 
possible for them to think of the autonomous "commune" «— itself 
based on "autonomous" productive units — as the lever of such a 

Marx was well aware of the preponderant role played by Anarcho- 
Proudhonism in the movement that brought forth the Paris Commune. 
In a letter to Engels (June 30, 1866), he refers ironically to "Pruud- 
honian Stirnerianism," which is inclined to "decompose everything into 
small groups or communes that are expected to come together again 
in some kind of union, but of course, not in the State." (Correspo?idence, 
vol. III.) 

In 1871, however, Marx faced the task of defending the Pans 
Commune against its enemies, who were drowning it in blood. He 
faced the task of justifying, in the shape of the Commune, the first 
attempt of the proletariat to seize power. If the Paris Commune 
had not been crushed by exterior forces, this effort would have led 
the workers beyond its first aims and shattered the narrow ideological 
bounds that repressed its vigor and denatured its content. 

We can, therefore, understand why in his apology of the Commune, 
Marx could not even pose the question whether the realization of social- 
ism is conceivable within the framework of autonomous, city and rural, 
communes. In face of the existing division of labor, economic cen- 
tralization and the degree of development of the powerful means of 
production already attained at that time— merely to pose the ques- 
tion would have been tantamount to a categoric rejection of the claim 
that the autonomous commune could "solve the social question," 


We can understand why Marx avoided the question whether a Fed- 
eralist union of communes could assure systematic social production on 
the scale customary to the preceding capitalism. We can understand why 
Marx touches only lightly on one of the most serious problems of 
the social revolution: the relationship between the city and the country, 
and merely declares, without any supporting evidence, that "the Com- 
munal Constitution (organization) would bring the rural producers 
under the intellectual lead of the central towns of their districts, and 
there secure to them, in the working man, the natural defenders of 
their interests," But would it be possible to hold the socialist economy 
in the framework of a federation of autonomous communes while this 
federation permitted the economic direction of the country by the city? 
Marx could permit himself to "adjourn" all these questions. He 
could assume that such problems would automatically find their solu- 
tion in the process of the social revolution and would, at the same 
time, cast out the Anarcho-Communalist illusions that prevailed in 
the minds of the workers at the beginning. 

But Marx did not merely remain silent on such contradictions of 
the Paris Commune. It is undeniable that he attempted to solve them 
by recognizing the Commune as "the finally discovered political form, 
permitting the economic emancipation of labor," and thus contradicted 
his own principle, that the lever of the social revolution can only be 
the conquest of Stale power. 

"The Communal Constitution," declared Marx, "would have re- 
stored to the social body the forces hitherto absorbed by the parasite 
feeding upon and clogging the free movement of society." (Civil 
War in France*) 

"The very existence of the Commune, as a matter of course, led 
to local municipal liberty but no longer as a counter-weight against 
the power of the State, which thenceforward became useless/' (Our 

Thus, the "destruction of the bureaucratic and military machine" 
of the State, dealt with in Marx's letter to Kugelmann, changed im- 
perceptibly and came to stand for the suppression of all State power, 
of any apparatus of compulsion in the service of the social administra- 
tion. The destruction of the "power of the modern State," the Con- 
tinental type of State, became the destruction of the State as such. 

Are we in the presence of an intentional lack of precision, enabling 
Marx to gloss over, in silence, the weak points of the Paris Commune 
at a moment when the Commune was being trampled by triumphant 
reaction? Or did the mighty surge of the revolutionary proletariat of 
Paris, set in motion under the flag of the Commune, render acceptable 
to Marx certain ideas of Proudhonian origin? No matter what is 
the case, it is true that Bakounin and his friends concluded that in 
his Civil War in France, Marx approved of the social revolutionary 


path traced by them. So that in his memoirs, James Guillaume 
(Guillaume: The International, Vol. ii, p. 191) observes with satis- 
faction that in its appreciation of the Commune the General Council 
of the International (under whose auspices Civil War was published) 
adopted in full the viewpoint of the Federalists. And Bakounin an- 
nounced triumphantly: "The Communalist revolution had so mighty 
an effect that despite their logic and real inclinations, the Marxists — 
with all their ideas overthrown by the Commune — were obliged to 
bow before the insurrection and appropriate its aims and program." 
Such statements are not free from exaggeration. But they contain a 
grain of truth. 

It is these, not very precise, opinions of Marx on the destruction of 
the State by a proletarian insurrection and the creation of the Com- 
mune that Lenin recognizes as the basis of the new social-revolutionary 
doctrine he presumes to reveal. On the top of these opinions of Marx, 
Lenin raises the Anarcho-Syndicalist canvas, picturing the destruction 
of the State as the immediate result of the conquest of the dictatorship 
by the proletariat, and replacing the State with that "finally discovered 
political form," which in 1871 was embodied in the Commune and 
is represented today by the "Soviets" — since "the Russian revolutions 
of 1905 and 1917, in different surroundings and under different cir- 
cumstances, have been continuing the work of the Commune and have 
been confirming Marx's analysis of history.' 1 (State and Revolution, 
P a £C 53> Russian text.) 

Already in 1899, in his well-known Principles of Socialism, Eduard 
Bernstein observed that in th* Civil War Marx appears to have taken 
a step toward Proudhon. "In spite of all points of difference that 
existed between Marx and the 'petty bourgeois' Proudhon, it is never- 
theless true that on this question their currents of thought resemble 
each other as closely as possible." Bernstein's words throw Lenin 
into a great fit of anger. "Monstrous! Ridiculous! Renegade!" screams 
Lenin at Bernstein, and he takes the opportunity to revile Plekhanov 
and Kautsky for not correcting "this pervisibn of Marx by Bernstein" 
in their polemics against Bernstein's book. 1 * 

^ But Lenin could have attacked on the same count the "Spartacist" 
Franz Mehring, unquestionably the best student and commentator of 
Marx. In his Karl Marx: The History of His Life (Leipzig, 1918), 
Mehring declares explicitly, leaving no room for doubt: 

"As ingenious as were some of Marx's arguments (on the Com- 
mune), they were to a certain extent, in contradiction with the con- 
ceptions championed by Marx and Engels for a quarter of a Century 
and previously formulated by them in the Communist Manifesto. 

14 Of course, Lenin, too, wrote a great deal on the subject of Eduard 
tienistein's book, without taking the trouble of correcting that "perversion." 

"According to these conceptions, the decomposition of the political 
organization referred to as the 'State' evidently belongs among the 
final accomplishments of the coming proletarian revolution. It will 
be a progressive decomposition. That organization has always had as 
its principal purpose to assure* with the aid of the armed forces, the 
economic oppression of the working majority by a privileged minority. 
The disappearance of the privileged minority will do away with the 
need of the armed force of oppression, that is, State power. But at 
the same time Marx and Engels emphasized that in order to achieve 
this — as well as other, even more important, results — the working class 
will first have to possess itself of the organized political power of 
the State and use it for the purpose of crushing the resistance of the 
capitalists and recreating society on a new basis. It ts difficult to 
reconcile the General Councils lavish praise of the Paris Commune, 
for having commenced by destroying the parasitic State, with the 
conceptions presented in the Communist Manifesto." (Fage 460. 
Our emphasis.) 

And Mehring adds: "One can easily guess that Bakounin's disciples 
have utilized the address of the General Council in their own fashion." 

Mehring is of the opinion that Marx and Engels clearly saw the 
contradiction existing between the theses presented in the Civil War 
and their previous way of posing the problem as a question of the 
conquest of State power. He writes; "Thus, when, after Marx's 
death, Engels had the occasion to combat the Anarchist tendencies, 
he, for his part at least, repudiated these reservations and resumed 
integrally the old conceptions found in the Manifesto," 

What are the "old conceptions found in the Manifesto?" They 
are the following: 

1. The working class seizes the State machinery forged by the 

2. It democratizes this machinery from top to botttom. (See the 
immediate measures which, according to the Manifesto, the proletariat 
of that time would have had to enact when it seized power.) It thus 
transforms the machinery formerly used by the minority for the 
oppression of the majority into a machine of constraint exercised by 
the majority over the minority, with a view of freeing the majority 
from the yoke of social inequality. That means, as Marx wrote in 
1852, not merely "to seize the available ready machinery of the State" 
of the bureaucratic, police and military type, but to shatter that machine 
in order to construct a new one on the basis of the self-administration 
of the people guided by the proletariat. 

Lem'n put to his use the inexact formulae found in Civil War in 
France. These formulae were sufficiently motivated by the immediate 
need of the General Council to defend the Commune (directed by the 
Hebertists and the Proudhonists) against its enemies. But they did 


away almost completely with the margin existing between the thesis of 
the "conquest of political power" presented by the Marxists and the 
idea of the "destruction of the State" held by the Anarchists. On the 
eve of the revolution of October 191 7, in his struggle against the re- 
publican democratism practiced by the socialist parties which he op- 
posed, Lenin used these formulae with such good effect that he accumu- 
lated in his State and Revolution as many contradictions as were 
found in the heads of all the members of the Commune: Jacobins, 
Blanquists, Herbertists, Proudhonians and Anarchists, Objectively, 
this was necessary {Lenin himself did not realize it, without dooubt) 
so that an attempt to create a State machine very similar in its struc- 
ture to the former military and bureaucratic type and controlled by a 
few adherents in might be presented to the masses, then in a condition 
of revolutionary animation, as the destruction of the old State ma- 
chinery, as the rise of a society based on a minimum of repression and 
discipline, as the birth of a Stateless society. At the moment when the 
revolutionary masses expressed their emancipation from the centuries- 
old yoke of the old State by forming "autonomous republics of Kron- 
stadt" and trying Anarchist experiments such as "workers' control," 
etc. — at that moment, the "dictatorship of the proletariat and the 
poorest peasants" (said to be incarnated in the real dictatorship of the 
supposed "true" interpreters of the proletariat and the poorest peasants: 
the chosen, of Bolshevist Communism) could only consolidate itself by 
first dressing itself in such Anarchist and anti-State ideology. The 
formula of "All Power to the Soviets" was found to be most ap- 
propriate to express mystically a tendency that agitated the revolu- 
tionary elements of the population at that time. This slogan presented 
to the revolutionary elements of the population two contradictory aims: 
I. the creation of a machine that would crush the exploiting classes in 
the benefit of the exploited ; but 2, which would, at the same time, free 
the exploited from any State machinery presupposing the need of sub- 
ordinating their wills as individuals or groups to the will of the social 

No different in origin and significance is the "Soviet mysticism" now 
current in Western Europe (1919). 

In Russia itself the evolution of the "Soviet State" has already 
created a new and very complicated State machine based on the "ad- 
ministration of persons" as against the "administration of things," 
based on the opposition of "administration" to "self-administration" 
and the functionary (official) to the citizen. These antagonisms are 
in no way different from the antagonisms that characterize the capital- 
ist class State. 

*s Let us reoa]l that Lenin said that if 200,000 proprietors could administer 
an immense territory in their own interests, 200,(XK) Bolsheviks would do the 
same thing in the interest of the workers and peasants. 


The economic retrogression that appeared during the World War 
has simplified economic life in all countries. One of the results of this 
simplification is the eclipse, in the consciousness of the masses, of the 
problem of the organization of production by the problem of distribu- 
tion and consumption. This phenomenon encourages in the working 
class the rebirth of illusions that make it believe in the possibility of 
laying hold of the national economy by handing over the means of 
production directly — with the aid of the State — to single groups of 
workers ("worker control/' "direct socialization," etc.) 

From the ground provided by such economic illusions, we see rise 
again the fallacy that the liberty of the working class can be accom- 
plished by the destruction of the State and not by the conquest of the 
State, This belief throws back the revolutionary working class move- 
ment toward the confusion, indefinlteness and low ideological level that 
characterized it at the time of the Commune of 1871. 

On one hand, such illusions are manipulated by certain extremist 
minorities of the socialist proletariat On the other hand, these groups 
are themselves the slaves of these illusions. It is under the influence 
of this double factor that these minorities act when they seek to find 
a practical medium by which they might elude the difficulties connected 
with the realization of a real class dictatorship — difficulties that have 
increased since the class in question has lost its unity* in the course of 
the war and is not capable of immediately giving battle with a revolu- 
tionary aim. Fundamentally, this Anarchist illusion of the destruction 
of the State covers up the tendency to concentrate all the State 1 power 
of constraint in the hands of a minority, which believes neither in the 
objective logic of the devolution nor in the class consciousness of the 
proletarian majority and, with still greater reason, that of the national 

The idea that the "Soviet system" is equal to a definitive break with 
all the former, bourgeois, forms of revolution, therefore, serves as 'a 
screen behind which — imposed by exterior factors and the inner con- 
formation of the proletariat — there are again set in motion methods 
that have featured the bourgeois revolutions. And those revolutions 
have always been accomplished by transferring the power of a "con- 
scious minority, supporting itself on an unconscious majority," to an- 
other minority finding itself in an identical situation, 

* "Unity in what?*' one may ask. Certainly not unity on the basis of 
socialist understanding, on the basis of a wide movement for the abolition 
of the existing system! Th,at was never lost, nationally or internationally, 
because it has yet to become a fact. Paraphrasing Marx (his letter to Bolte, 
23rd of November, 1871), it can be said that if "revolutionary minorities'* 
cast their nets, witli a measure of success and some historic Justification, 
U but indicates that the working class lias not yet ripened for an independent 
"historic movement. The "revolutionary minorities" will find their fishing 
mighty poor -when the , working class reaches that maturity.— Translator. 




IN HER polemic against Edouard Bernstein, Rosa Luxemburg de- 
clared, quite correctly, that "there never was any doubt for Marx 
and Engels about the necessity of having the proletariat conquer polit- 
ical power." 1C However, the conditions under which this conquest 
was to be accomplished did not appear the same to Marx and Engels at 
different periods of their life. 

"At the beginning of their activity," writes Kautsky in his Democ- 
racy or Dictatorship, "Marx and Engels were greatly influenced by 
Blanquism, though they immediately adopted to it a critical attitude. 
The dictatorship of the proletariat to which they aspired in their first 
writings still showed some Blanquist features." 

This remark is not entirely accurate. If it is true that Marx, putting 
aside the petty-bourgeois revolutionarism that colored the ideology and 
politics of Blanquism, recognized the Blanquists of 1848 to be a party 
representing the revolutionary French proletariat, it is no less true that 
there is nothing in their works to show that Marx and Engels found 
themselves at that time under the influence of Blanqui and his partisans, 
Kautsky is right when he points out that Marx and Engels always took 
toward the Banquists a wholly critical attitude. It is undeniable that 
their first conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat arose under 
the influence of the Jacobin tradition of 1793, with which the Blan- 
quists themselves were penetrated. The powerful historic example of 
the political dictatorship exercised during the Terror by the lower 
classes of the population of Paris served Marx and Engels as a point of 
departure in their reflection on the future conquest of political power by 
the proletariat. In 1895 (in his preface to Class Struggles in France), 
Engels drew the balance of the experience that his friend and he had 
gathered in the revolutions of 1848 and 1871: "The time has passed 
for revolutions accomplished through the sudden seizure of power by 
small conscious minorities at the head of wiconscious masses." When 
he said this, Engels recognized that in the first period of their activity, 
the question for him and Marx was exactly that of the conquest of 

18 Reform or Revolution, page 46. English ed, 


political power "by a conscious minority at the head of unconscious 
masses." In other words, the problem that seemed to face them was 
the duplication, in the 19th century, of the experience of the Jacobin 
dictatorship, with the role of the Jacobins and the Cordeliers taken 
by the conscious revolutionary elements of the proletariat, supporting 
themselves on the confused social fermentation of the general population. 

By adroit politics, which, because of its knowledge of the practice 
and theory of scientific socialism, the vanguard would be able to carry 
on after its seizure of power, the broad proletarian masses would be 
introduced to the problems current on the day after the revolution and 
would thus be raised to the rank of conscious authors of historic action. 
Only such a conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat could 
permit Marx and Engels to expect that after a more or less prolonged 
lull, the revolution of 1848 — which began as the last grapple between 
feudal society and the bourgeoisie and by the same internal conflicts 
occurring between the different layers of bourgeois society — would end 
in the historic victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie. 

In 1895, Engels recognized the inconsistency of this conception. "As 
soon as the situation calls for the total transformation of the social 
order, the masses must participate in it directly, and they must have 
an understanding of what is at stake and what must be won. This is 
what the history of the last half-century has taught us." 

That does not mean to say, however, that in 1848 Marx and Engels 
did not entirely realize what were the necessary historic premises of 
the socialist revolution. Not only did they recognise that the socialist 
transformation could only come at a very high level of capitalism, but 
they also denied the possibility of keeping political power in the hands 
of the proletariat in the case that this imperative condition did not 
first exist* 

In 1846, in his letter to M, Hess, W. Weitling described his break 
with Marx in the following words: "We arrived at the conclusion that 
there could be no question now of realizing communism in Germany; 
that first the bourgeoisie must come to power." The "we" refers to 
Marx and Engels, for Weitling says further on: "On this question 
Marx and Engels had a very violent discussion with me/' In October- 
November of 1847, Marx wrote on this subject with clear-cut definite- 
ness in his article: "Moralizing criticism." 

"If it is true that politically, that is to say with the help of the State, 
the bourgeoisie 'maintains the injustice of property relations' (Heinzer's 
expression) 7 it is no less true that it does not create them. The injustice 
of the property relations . . . does not owe its origin in any way to the 
political domination of the bourgeois classes; but on the contrary, the 
domination of the bourgeoisie flows from the existing relations of 
production . . . For this reason, if the proletariat overthrows the polit- 
ical domination of the bourgeoisie, its victory will only be a point in 


the process of the bourgeois revolution itself and will serve the cause 
of the latter by aiding its further development. This happened in 1794* 
and will happen again as long as the march, the 'movement,' of history 
will not have elaborated the material factors that will create the 
necessity of putting an end to the bourgeois methods of production, 
and, as a consequence, to the political domination of the bourgeoisie." 
(Literary Heritage, volume II, p. 512-513. Our emphasis.) 

It appears therefore that Marx admitted the possibility of a political 
victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie at a point of historic 
development when the previously necessary conditions for a socialist 
revolution were not yet mature. But he stressed that such a victory 
would be transitory, and he predicted with the prescience of genius 
that a conquest of political power by the proletariat that is premature 
from the historic viewpoint would "only be a point in the process of 
the bourgeois revolution itself*" 

We conclude that, in the case of a notably "premature" conquest of 
power, Marx would consider it obligatory of the conscious elements of 
the proletariat to pursue a policy that takes into consideration the fact 
that such a conquest represents objectively "only a point in the process 
of the bourgeois revolution itself" and will "serve the latter by aiding 
its further development." He would expect a policy leading the prole- 
tariat to limit voluntarily the position and the solution of the revolu- 
tionary problems. For the proletariat can score a victory over the 
bourgeoisie — and not for the bourgeoisie — only when "the march of 
history will have elaborated the material factors that create the necessity 
(not merely the objective possibility/ — Martov) of putting an end to 
the bourgeois methods of production." 

The following words of Marx explain in what sense a passing vic- 
tory of the proletariat can become a point in the process of the bourgeois 

"By its bludgeon blows the Reign of Terror cleansed the surface 
of France, as if by a miracle, of all the feudal ruins. With its timorous 
caution, the bourgeoisie would not have managed this task in several 
decades. Therefore, the bloody acts of the people merely served to 
level the route of the bourgeoisie." 

The Reign of Terror in France was the momentary domination of 
the democratic petty bourgcoise and the proletariat over all the pos- 
sessing classes, including the authentic bourgeoisie. Marx indicates 
very definitely that such a momentary domination cannot be the starting 
point of a socialist transformation, unless the material factors rendering 
this transformation indispensable will have first been worked out 

One might say that Marx wrote this specially for the benefit of 
those people who consider the simple fact of a fortuitous conquest of 
power by the democratic small bourgeoisie and the proletariat as proof 
of the maturity of society for the socialist revolution. But it may also 


be said that he wrote this specially for the benefit of those socialists 
who believe that never in the course of a revolution that is bourgeois 
in its objectives can there occur a possibility permitting the political 
power to escape from the hands of the bourgeoisie and pass to the demo- 
cratic masses. One may say that Marx wrote this also for the benefit 
of those socialists who consider Utopian the mere idea of such a dis- 
placement of power and who do not realize that this phenomenon is 
"only a point in the process of the bourgeois revolution itself," that it 
is a factor assuring, under certain conditions, the most complete and 
radical suppression of the obstacles rising in the way of this bourgeois 

The European revolution of 1848 did not lead to the conquest of 
political power by the proletariat. Soon after the June days, Marx 
and Engels began to realize that the historic conditions for such a con- 
quest were not yet ripe. However, they continued to overestimate 
the pace of historic development and expected, as we know, a new revo- 
tionary assault shortly after, even before the last wave of the tempest 
of 1848 had died away. They found new factors that seemed to favor 
the possibility of having political power pass into the hands of the prole- 
tariat, not only in the experience gathered by the latter in the class 
combats during the "mad year" but also in the evolution undergone 
by the small bourgeoisie, which seemed to be pushed irresistibly to a 
solid union with the proletariat. 

In his Class Struggles in France and later in The Eighteenth Brum- 
aire, Marx noted the movement of the small democratic bourgeoisie of 
the cities toward the proletariat, a movement that took definite form 
by 1848. And in the second of the indicated works, he announced the 
probability of similar movement on the part of the small peasants, 
hitherto deceived by the dictatorship of Napoleon III, whose principal 
creators and strongest support they were, 

"The interests of the peasants," he wrote, "are no longer confused 
with those of the bourgeoisie and capital, as was the case under Napo- 
leon I. On the contrary, they are antagonistic. That is why the 
peasants now find a natural ally and guide in the city proletariat, whose 
destiny it is to overthrow the bourgeois order." (The Eighteenth 
Brumaire, German edition, p. 102.) 

Thus the proletariat apparently no longer had to wait to become the 
absolute majority in order to win political power. It had grown large 
as a result of the development of capitalism, and it benefitted besides 
by the support of the small propertyholders of the city and country 
whom the pinched chances of making a living moved away from the 
capitalist bourgeoisie. 

When, after an interruption of twenty years, the revolutionary process 
was revived to end in the Paris Commune, it was in this new fact that 


Marx thought he saw an opportunity favoring the solution of the last 
uprising by the effective and solid dictatorship of the proletariat. 

Marx wrote in Civil War in Prance: 

"Here was the first revolution in which the working class was ac- 
knowledged as the only class capable of social initiative, even by the 
great bulk of the Paris middle-class — shopkeepers, tradesmen, merchants 
— the wealthy capitalists alone excepted . . . This mass, belonging to 
the Third-Estate, had assisted in 1848, in crushing the workers' insur- 
rection, and soon after, without the least ceremony, was sacrificed to 
their creditors by the then Constituent Assembly . . . This mass now 
felt it was necessary for it to choose between the Commune and the 
Empire . . * After the errant band of Bonapartist courtiers and capital- 
ists had fled Paris, the true Third-Estate Party of Order, taking the 
shape of the "Republican Union," took its place under the flag of the 
Commune and defended the latter against Thiers' calumnies. (Civil 
War in France, Russian edition, Boureviestnik, pp. 36-37.) 

Already in 1845, at the time when he was only groping his way to 
socialism, Marx indicated in his Introduction to the Criticism of HegeVs 
Philosophy of Law the necessary conditions permitting a revolutionary 
class to lay claim to a position of dominance in society. For that, it 
must be recognized by all the masses oppressed under the existing regime 
as "the liberating class par excellence." This situation is possible when 
the class against which the struggle is led becomes in the eyes of the 
masses "the oppressing class par excellence." In 1848 this situation 
certainly did not exist. The decomposition of small property was not 
yet far enough advanced. 

The situation appeared quite different in 1871. By that time, Marx 
and Engels had undoubtedly freed themselves from the influence of the 
Jacobin tradition and, therefore, from their conception of the dictator- 
ship of a "conscious minority" acting at the head of unconscious (not 
understanding) masses (that is, masses which are simply in revolt, 
J. M,), It is precisely on the fact that the ruined small property- 
holders grouped themselves knowingly around the socialist proletariat 
that the two great theoreticians of scientific socialism based their fore- 
cast of the outcome of the Parisian insurrection, which, as we know, 
began against their wishes. They were correct concerning the city 
petty-bourgeoisie (at least, that of Paris), Contrary to what hap- 
pened after the June days, the massacre of the Communards in the 
month of May, 1871 was not the work of the entire bourgeois society 
but only of the big capitalists. The small bourgeoisie participated 
neither in putting down the Commune nor in the reactionary orgy that 
followed. Marx and Engels were however, much less correct con- 
cerning the peasants. In Civil War, Marx expressed the opinion that 
only the isolation of Paris and the short life of the Commune had kept 


the peasants from joining with the proletarian revolution. Pursuing 
the thread of reasoning of which Eighteenth Brumaire is the beginning, 
he said: 

"The peasant was a Bonapartist, because the great Revolution, with 
all its benefits to him, was in his eyes, personified in Napoleon, Under 
the Second Empire this delusion had almost entirely disappeared. This 
prejudice of the past could not withstand the appeal of the Commune 
which called to the living interests, the urgent wants of the peasantry. 
The worthy Rurals knew full well that if the Paris of the Commune 
could communicate freely with the departments (provinces), there 
would be a general rising of the peasants within three months , . . 
(Page 38.) 

The history of the Third Republic has demonstrated that Marx was 
mistaken on this point In the 70's, the peasants (as, moreover, a large 
part of the urban petty bourgeoisie in the provinces) were still far from 
a break with capital and the bourgeoisie. They were still far from 
recognizing the latter as the "oppressing class/* far from considering 
the proletariat as "the liberating class" and confiding to it the "direc- 
tion of their movement.*' In 1895 in his preface to Class Struggles, 
Engels had to state : "It was shown again, twenty years after the events 
of 1848-1851, that the power of the working class was ?iat possible" 
because "France had not supported Paris." (Engels gave also as a 
cause of the defeat, the absence of unity in the very ranks of the revolt- 
ing proletariat, which, in proof of its insufficient revolutionary maturity, 
led it to waste its strength in a "sterile struggle between the Blanquists 
and Prcudhonians/ 1 ) 

But no matter what was the error in Marx's evaluation, he succeeded 
in outlining very clearly the problems of the dictatorship of the prole- 
tariat. "The Commune/' he said, "was the true representative of all 
the healthy elements of French society, and therefore the truly national 
government. {Civil War, page 38, emphasis by Martov.) 

According to Marx, the dictatorship of the proletariat does not con- 
sist in the crushing by the proletariat of all non-proletarian classes in 
society. On the contrary, according to Marx, it means the welding to 
the proletariat of all the "healthy elements" of society — all except the 
"rich capitalists/' all except the class against which the historic struggle 
of the proletariat is directed. Both in its composition and in its ten- 
dencies, the government of the Commune was a working men's govern- 
ment. But this government was an expression of the dictatorship of 
the proletariat not because it was imposed by violence on a non-pro- 
letarian majority. It did not arise that way. On the contrary, the gov- 
ernment of the Commune was a proletarian dictatorship because those 
workers and those "acknowledged representatives of the working class*' 
had received the power from the majority itself. Marx stressed the 
fact that "the Commune was formed of municipal councillors, chosen 


by universal suffrage in various wards of the city ... By suppressing 
those organs of the old governmental power which merely served to 
oppress the people, the Commune divested of its legal functions an au- 
thority that claims to be above society itself, and put those functions 
in the hands of the responsible servants of the people . * . The people 
organized in Communes (outside of Paris) was called on to use uni- 
versal suffrage just as any employer uses his individual right to chouse 
workers, managers, accountants in his business." 

The completely democratic constitution of the Paris Commune, based 
on universal suffrage, on the immediate recall of every office-holder by 
the simple decision of his electors, on the suppression of bureaucracy 
and the armed force as opposed to the people, on the electiveness of all 
offices — that is what constitutes, according to Marx, the essence of the 
dictatorship of the proletariat. He never thinks of opposing such a 
dictatorship to democracy. Already in 1847, in his first draft of the 
Communist Manifesto, Engels wrote: "It (the proletarian revolution) 
will establish first of all the democratic administration of the State and 
will thus install, directly or indirectly, the political domination of the 
proletariat. Directly— in England, where the proletariat forms the 
majority of the population. Indirectly — in France and in Germany, 
where the majority of the population is not composed only of prole- 
tarians but also of small peasants and small bourgeois, who are only 
now beginning to pass into the proletariat and whose political interests 
fall more and more under the influence of the proletariat." (The 
Principles of Communism, Russian translation under the editorship of 
Zinoviev, p. 22.) The first step in the revolution, by the working 
class, declares the Manifesto, "is to raise the proletariat to the position 
of a ruling class, to win the battle of democracy." 

Between the elevation of the proletariat to the position of a ruling 
class and the conquest of democracy, Marx and Engels put an equals 
sign. They understood the application of this political power by the 
proletariat only in the forms of a total democracy. 

In the measure that Marx and Engels became convinced that the 
socialist revolution could only be accomplished with the support of the 
majority of the population accepting knowingly the positive program of 
socialism — so their conception of a class dictatorship lost its Jacobin 
content. But what is the positive substance of the notion of the dictator- 
ship once it has been modified in this manner? Exactly that which is 
formulated with great precision in the program of our Party (the 
Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party), a program drafted at a time 
when the theoretic discussion provoked by "Bernsteinism" led Marxists 
to polish and define with care certain expressions which had obviously 
lost their exact meaning with long usage in the daily political struggle. 

The program of the Social-Democratic Labor Party of Russia was 
the only official program of a Labor Party that defined the idea of the 


conquest of political power by the proletariat in the terms of a "class 
dictatorship." Bernstein, Jaures and other critics of Marxism insisted 
on giving the expression; "dictatorship of the proletariat" the Blanquist 
definition of power held by an organized minority and resting on vio- 
lence exercised by this minority over the majority. For this reason 
the authors of the Russian program were obliged to fix as narrowly 
as possible the limits of this political idea. They did that by declaring 
that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the power used by the prole- 
tariat to crush all resistance which the exploiting class might oppose to 
the realization of the socialist and revolutionary transformation. Simply 

An effective force concentrated in the State, which can thus realize 
the conscious "wilt of th\p majority despite the resistance of art economi- 
cally powerful ?ninority — here is the dictatorship of the proletariat. It 
can he nothing else than that in light of the teachings of Marx, Not 
only must such a dictatorship adapt itself to a democratic regime, but 
it can only exist in the framework of democracy, that is, under condi- 
tions where there is the full exercise of absolute political equality on the 
part of all citizens. Such a dictatorship can only be conceived in a situa- 
tion where the proletariat has effectively united} about itself "all the 
healthy elements" of the nation f that is, all those that cannot but bene- 
fit by the revolutionary transformation inscribed in the program of the 
proletariat. It can only be established when, historic development 
will have brought all the healthy elements to recognize the advantage 
to them of this transformation. The government embodying such a 
"dictatorship" will be, in the full sense of the term, a "national 


What Has Become 

of the Russian Revolution 

• by M. WON 

Contains the following (actual information'. 

flow The Soviet Worker Lives 

I — Lodging: different kinds of homes; rent; workers' homes; 

the homes of the masters. 
II — Food: how it is bought; what the Soviet worker eats. 
HI — Wages: deductions from wages; social services. 
XV — Conditions of work: the work week; the work day; in- 
tensity of labor; soviet trade unions; speed-up methods, etc. 

The Level of Liberty of the Worker in the USSR 

I — Personal liberty: security of the home; attached to the 
factory; forbidden to leave Russia; military service, 
\\— Collective liberty: head-fixing; elections; the apparatus of 
repression; stages in destruction of political liberty; why 
this evolution. 

The State and Classes 

I — Official or fictitious Power: the Soviets; the bureaucracy. 

II — The real power: the Party; the structure of the Party; 


Ill — The new classes: the so-called "manual" laborer; the 

small and middle "employee"; the responsible-specialist; 

the class struggle continues. 

This is the intelligent man's guide to the USSR. Written 
by a French worker who lived and worked in Soviet Russia for 
eleven years. Andre Gide describes Yvon*s book as "probably 
the best thing that has been written on the question." 



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